• EU nationals can still apply for citizenship after six years
  • Also expects rights of U.K. nationals in EU to be protected

The rights of European Union nationals living in the U.K. have not changed since the country voted for Brexit, the British government said, seeking to end weeks of uncertainty.

"When we do leave the EU, we fully expect that the legal status of EU nationals living in the U.K., and that of U.K. nationals in EU member states, will be properly protected," the Treasury said in a statement on its website on Monday. EU nationals who have legally lived in the country for at least five years still have "a permanent right to reside,” while people in the U.K. for six years retain the right to apply for citizenship, it said.

Theresa May, who will succeed David Cameron as prime minister on Wednesday, has previously refused to guarantee the status of Europeans living in the U.K. following the Brexit vote. "As part of the negotiation, we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the U.K. from the EU,” she said during her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

May has also said the government should wait at least a year to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, meaning the U.K.’s actual departure from the EU could be as long as three years away.

"As was the case before the referendum, EU nationals can only be removed from the U.K. if they are considered to pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the public, if they are not lawfully resident or are abusing their free-movement rights,” the Treasury said.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told lawmakers last week that rights for EU nationals in the U.K. must be reciprocated for U.K. nationals. An estimated 1.2 million Britons live in EU member states.

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