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An agreement reached in the first phase of Brexit negotiations would allow European citizens living in the United Kingdom as of the date it withdraws from the E.U. to retain their residency rights even if they leave the U.K. for up to five years. It would also allow the U.K. to continue to participate in E.U. science and student exchange programs through the end of the current budget cycle in 2020.

"Following withdrawal from the union, the U.K., will continue to participate in the union programs financed by the MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework] 2014-2020 until their closure," a joint report from the E.U. and U.K. negotiating teams says. "Accordingly, the eligibility to apply to participate in union programs and union funding for U.K. participants and projects will be unaffected by the U.K.’s withdrawal from the union for the entire lifetime of such projects."

The main association of university leaders in Britain, Universities UK, praised the developments, while stressing the importance of the next phase of Brexit negotiations to British academe.

"It is welcome news that an agreement has finally been reached on citizens' rights, which has long been universities' first priority for Brexit negotiations," Universities UK’s chief executive, Alistair Jarvis, said in a statement. "Today's announcement means that the 46,000 E.U. nationals working across the U.K. university sector have clarity that they can remain and work in the U.K. and gain settled status. We also welcome the confirmation that people with settled status will be able to spend up to five consecutive years outside the U.K. without losing this status."

Jarvis also described it as “positive news” that students and universities will be able to participate in Horizon 2020, a research funding program, and Erasmus+, a student exchange program, “until at least the end date of the current programs.”

"Phase two of the negotiations is hugely important for universities," Jarvis said. "To ensure universities can deliver maximum impact post-exit, this should include negotiating access to the next European research and innovation program (FP9) and to the Erasmus+ mobility program. Developing a post-exit immigration system, with minimal barriers to allow talented European staff and students to work and study in the U.K., is a priority."

British academia has been to a large degree united in its opposition to and concerns about Brexit. In advance of the 2016 referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the E.U., university leaders and researchers argued that Britain's exit risked cutting off the flow of talent into the U.K. and damaging the country's universities and science.