Here's how the rights of EU residents will be affected during and after the Brexit transition period

In this photo illustration the flag of the European Union and the Union flag sit on top of a sand castle on a beach on May 09, 2016 in Southport, United Kingdom

Many EU nationals living in the UK have been here for years, some intending to remain in the UK indefinitely, having secured a job and started a family.

There are around 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK as of summer 2018, and that figure includes about 600,000 children.

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So what does Brexit mean for you if you are an EU national in the UK?

Here's everything you need to know:

What does Brexit mean for EU citizens living in the UK?

In short, when Britain leaves the EU on 31 January, not much changes for at least a year or so.

That's because under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will enter a transitional period during which time the UK will abide by EU rules despite no longer being a member.

The transition period is currently scheduled to end on 31 December 2020, which was the date agreed by former prime minister Theresa May.

The transition can, however, be extended once by up to two years, if the UK and EU jointly decide to do so before 1 July 2020.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement deal, EU nationals in the UK and Britons in the EU – and their family members – will retain residency and social security rights after Brexit.

Freedom to move and live within the EU and UK will continue during the transition period, and if you are from the EU and have lived in the UK permanently for five years by the end of the transition period, you will be able to continue to reside in the UK permanently.

So I don't need to do anything?

In most cases you will still have to apply for your new residence status.

That applies even if:

You were born in the UK but are not a British citizenYou have a UK ‘permanent residence document’You are family member of an EU citizen who does not need to apply - including if they’re from IrelandYou are an EU citizen with a British citizen family member

You'll need to apply through the EU settlement scheme, a scheme that allows EU, EEA or Swiss citizens who are living in the UK to request permission to keep living in the country after Brexit.

(The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway)

Gov.uk explains that except in a few cases, you need to apply if you’re living in the UK but you are:

An EU, EEA or Swiss citizenNot an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, but your family member is

If your application to the EU Settlement Scheme is successful, you will be able to continue living and working in the UK after 30 June 2021.

How much does it cost to apply, and when's the deadline?

Around a third of EU nationals living in the UK have yet to secure settled status to remain in the country, creating a “ticking time bomb” for British businesses, a legal charity has warned.

More than a million Europeans have still to apply for permanent residence in the UK, despite the success rate of applications being over 99 per cent.

Government guidelines say the deadline is 30 June 2021 - six months after the end of the transition period, though the UK Home Office said in a that people who have "reasonable grounds" for missing the deadline will be given a "further opportunity to apply."

The government scrapped its original plan for a fee of £65 for over-16s and £32.50 for under-16s to apply for settlement; it is now free to apply to the scheme. Anyone who has paid to apply will get a refund.

What then?

(Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

If your application is successful, a letter will be emailed to you confirming your settled or pre-settled status.

However you cannot use the letter itself to prove your status.

You will usually be able to apply for citizenship 12 months after you’ve got settled status.

You will be able to view your status or prove it to someone else online - you will not usually get a physical document.

The document you get under the EU Settlement Scheme proves your rights in the UK only.

What are my rights with settled status?

You’ll be able to:

work in the UKuse the NHS for free as you do nowenrol in education or continue studyingaccess public funds such as benefits and pensions, if you’re eligible for themtravel in and out of the UK

What if I haven't lived in Britain for five years?

You will still be able to acquire the right to permanent residency by completing five years of living in the UK, so as long as you began legally residing in the UK by the end of the transition period (currently 31 December 2020).

This right is only lost if you leave the country for a period of more than five years.

What about travelling to the UK for holidays?

If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, what EU citizens will need to enter the UK won’t change until at least 2021.

During 2021, national ID cards will no longer be accepted upon entry to the UK for EEA citizens. The date for this change will be announced in advance to give travellers time to adjust their plans.

In the instance that the UK departs from the EU without a deal in place, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will continue to be able to travel to the UK for holidays or short trips without needing a visa.

You’ll be able to cross the UK border using a valid passport or national identity card.

If you plan on travelling to the UK after it has left the EU with no deal, you will need to ensure that you have the correct documents in place to show at the UK border.

Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK as they currently do.