Home Secretary Amber Rudd has written an open letter to all EU citizens currently living in the UK.

Concern for the future of EU citizens living in the UK has been high on the agenda ever since the June 2016 referendum which saw 52% of the UK electorate vote to leave the European Union.

A deal has since been struck that allows some 3.7m EU citizens who currently live in the UK to have full citizens' rights once Britain exits the union in March 2019.

In her letter, Rudd hoped that the fresh agreement "provide reassurance" that the government was keen to safeguard their futures.

A deal was reached after months of painstaking talks in Brussels last week, which had been derailed by rows over the divorce settlement and the future of the Irish border.

Official guidelines for the next phase of talks state that initial drafts were expected in January on how the trade discussions would evolve.

They also confirm that the UK will be leaving both the single market and the customs union, an area that still causes divisions in Westminster.

The guidelines revealed that Britain cannot sign a new trade deal until it becomes a "third country" upon exit from the EU, up until that point, all talks will be preparatory.

May's hopes of commencing trade talks seemed on the verge of collapse due to a disagreement with the DUP over the future of the Irish border, but these were also resolved.

The prime minister has however repeatedly stated that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", with the next stage of talks set to be the toughest yet.

Amber Rudd's full letter

I'm proud that so many EU citizens like yourself have built your lives in the UK and made it your home. We value your contribution which is why the government put safeguarding your rights as the first priority in the Brexit negotiations.

I am absolutely delighted that we have now reached an agreement with the EU that does this. I know that at times you've had an anxious wait while the fine details were ironed out, but we wanted to get it right and we have always had you at the forefront of our thoughts.

We have always said that we will continue to recognise the value you bring to our society, and that we will remain an open and diverse country. Hopefully this deal provides reassurance that we will do just that.

The agreement we have reached ensures the rights you and your family currently have remain broadly the same with access to healthcare, benefits and pensions protected. And your existing close family members living outside the UK retain the right to join you in future. These rights will be cemented in UK law meaning you can live your life as you do now with the security of knowing they won't change. Irish citizens also have their existing rights, associated with the Common Travel Area arrangements, protected.

Away from the negotiations, my team at the Home Office has been working hard to build the digital system that you'll use to get your new status. It's being designed from scratch to be quick and simple to use. There won't be bureaucratic hurdles – those processing applications will work in your favour.

What's more, it will cost no more than the fee a British person pays for a passport and if you already have valid permanent residence documentation it will be free. There will be support for the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, and we're working with EU citizens' representatives and embassies to ensure the system works for everyone.

You do not need to do anything just yet. You will see more detail about the settled status scheme from us in the new year and we expect applications will open during the second half of 2018. In the meantime, please do share this message with your friends and family so that they too can stay up to date through our mailing list.

I hope that the agreement we have reached provides certainty to you and your family ahead of Christmas. EU citizens, like yourself, who have made the UK their home are our family, our neighbours and our colleagues and we want you to stay.