The UK government has set out its negotiation position with the European Union (EU), on the future status of approximately 3 million EU nationals currently exercising Treaty rights in the UK. The published information provides an outline of the government’s position on a ‘new settled status’, but is very short on detail. Here, we review the latest government proposals and their possible impact for EU nationals and their families.
A new ‘special settled status’ was announced by Prime Minister, Theresa May on 26 June 2017, aimed at granting EU nationals “the right to live in Britain, to undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and to apply for British citizenship.”
The proposals will allow EU nationals to acquire or transfer their permanent status into a special settled status, thereby bringing them within the restrictive UK immigration laws that currently apply to nationals outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Let’s look at the proposals in more detail. As part of the UK government’s wish to ‘safeguard’ the rights of EU nationals in the UK, the government said it will:
- Comply in full with its legal obligations, including in respect of administrative procedures for providing documentation for those exercising Treaty rights until such time as the UK leaves the UK;
- Create new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens, resident here before the UK’s exit from the EU. Those rights will be enforceable in the UK legal system and will provide legal guarantees for those EU. In addition, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will not have jurisdiction in the UK;
- These rights will apply to all EU citizens equally and the UK government will not treat citizens of one member state differently to those of another qualifying EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status. The administrative procedures which they will need to comply with in order to obtain these new rights will be modernised and kept as smooth and simple as possible;
- Bring the application process under a separate legal scheme, in UK law, rather than the current one for certifying the exercise of rights under EU. The UK government intends to tailor the eligibility criteria so that, for example, it will no longer require evidence that economically inactive EU citizens have previously held ‘comprehensive sickness insurance’ in order to be considered continuously resident;
- Provide all qualifying EU citizens adequate time to apply for their new residence status after the UK leaves the UK. There will be no ‘cliff-edge’ at the point of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU;
- Guarantee that qualifying individuals will be granted settled status in UK law (indefinite leave to remain pursuant to the Immigration Act 1971). This means they will be free to reside in any capacity and undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and services and to apply for British citizenship;
- Allow EU nationals to qualify for the new settled status as long as they were resident in the UK before a specified date and must have completed a period of 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK before they apply for settled status. They must also still be resident in the UK at that point to qualify;
- Allow EU citizens who arrived and became resident before the specified date, but who have not accrued five years’ continuous residence at the time of the UK’s exit from the EU, to apply for temporary status in order to remain resident in the UK. Once those EU nationals have resided in the UK for 5 years, they will be eligible to apply for settled status;
- Allow EU citizens who arrived after the specified date, to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period. They may become eligible to settle permanently, depending on their circumstances. However, this group should ‘have no expectation of guaranteed settled status’;
- Allow family dependants, who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before the UK’s exit from the EU, to apply for settled status after 5 years. The 5 years’ period includes time accrued after Brexit. Those joining after the UK’s exit will be subject to the same rules as those joining British citizens or alternatively to the post-exit immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after the specified date;
- Define the ‘specified date’ as no earlier than the 29 March 2017, the date the formal Article 50 process for exiting the EU was triggered, and no later than the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The specified date will be agreed with the EU as part of delivering a reciprocal deal; and
- Apply rules to exclude those who are serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK.
It cannot be stressed enough that the above proposals are just that, proposals. The proposals will form part of the UK’s negotiations with the EU and is likely to change or bend as time progresses. Regardless, as they stand, they will have a huge impact on EU nationals’ ability to work, study and unite with family members in the UK.
The new settled status will apply to EU nationals and their family members who are currently exercising Treaty rights in the UK, but have not yet acquired 5 years’ continuous residence, and will also be applicable to EU nationals that have already applied to the Home Office to certify their permanent residence status.
Applying for the new settled status will be done under a ‘fast- track process’.
Great. Some information has been provided. And yet, so much has been left unsaid.
- What will the fast track process look like?
- How does the government intend to fast-track the applications for the large number of EU nationals in the UK?
- It is not clear if the application process for the new settled status will differ for EU nationals that have already gone through the onerous process of applying to certify their permanent residence status and supplied a great deal of documents, as compared to those that had not certified their permanent residence status at all.
- How will settled status for EU nationals already in the UK, differ from the settled status for EU nationals arriving after the ‘specified date’?
- Will EU nationals arriving after the cut-off date see a restricted definition of ‘family members’ as seen under the current UK immigration rules?
- Will EU nationals that had certified their permanent residence status be expected to complete another form and submit masses of documents again?
- What is the specified cut-off date?
Another key omission? Fees. How much will EU nationals be expected to pay to apply for the new settled status? For instance, national from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) can expect to pay £2,297 (fees as applied from 6 April 2017 and current as of today’s date). Compare that to an application to certify permanent residence, currently £65.
Will EU nationals be expected to pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds for settled status? We don’t yet know although the UK government proposes that fees will be reasonable.
And will the fast-track system be offered as standard or will a premium fee be attached? We also do not know.
What is clear is that some EU nationals are holding off making an application to certify permanent residence status and instead waiting for details of the new settled status. The merits of doing so will of course depend on each individual and their circumstances.
Settled status, students and the self-sufficient
At present, EU nationals in the UK as students or who are self-sufficient, are required to hold comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI). Without CSI, such EU nationals are deemed not to have exercised their Treaty rights in the UK.
The government has proposed that CSI will not be a requirement for EU nationals seeking the new settled status.
Permanent residence and British citizenship
What factors should EU nationals factor into their decision making?
Well, not all EU nationals are eager to apply for British citizenship or meet the requirements for British citizenship. In fact, some nationals are precluded from holding dual nationality by their home country.
For those keen to secure British citizenship, applying to certify permanent residence status, especially for those already exercising their Treaty rights in the UK for 5 years and over, can be beneficial. Why? Because it may be a ‘quicker’ route to naturalising as a British citizen.
When applying for British citizenship, EU nationals have been exercising Treaty rights for 5 years, at which point they will acquire permanent residence. Thereafter, they must apply to the Home Office to certify their permanent residence and hold such recognised status for a further 12 months.
For example, one of our client’s Eliana, owned and ran her own business in the UK for the past 8 years and successfully applied for British nationality. Eliana first applied to certify her permanent residence status on the basis that she could evidence exercising her Treaty rights as a self-employed person for the past 7 years. Not the easiest of exercises but Eliana only managed to obtain 7 years of the recommended documentary evidence.
We prepared the application and asked the Home Office to not only certify Eliana’s permanent residence status for the past 5 years, but for the past 7 years. This was duly done and allowed Eliana to immediately apply for British citizenship without waiting for a further 12 months.
Equally, another client had her permanent residence status recognised based on her UK activities over the past 5 years. After 12 months’ she may apply for British citizenship, well before the UK formally leaves the EU, assuming the cut-off date is when the UK officially leaves the EU.
This option may be far ‘quicker’ route to British citizenship as compared to applying for settled status, once it is rolled out, and holding that status for an additional 12 months. At the moment, there is nothing to say that the new settled status will be retrospective in law.
There are good reasons to wait and delay making an application British citizenship. One of which is related to family members. Under EU regulations, EU national exercising Treaty rights in the UK, are entitled to have their direct and indirect family members join them in the UK. This includes non-EEA family members.
Once the EU national becomes a British citizen, family reunion becomes restricted, onerous and expensive.
An EU national sponsoring a non-EEA spouse to join the in the UK can be as (relatively) straightforward as submitting a EEA family permit application at zero cost.
Doing so as a British citizen means meeting the financial requirements and earning a salary of at least £18,600 per annum, and Home Office fees in the region of £1400 plus an Immigration Health Surcharge of approximately £600.
And applying for an elderly parent to a British citizen in the UK is extremely difficult, with extended family members such as cousins and uncles being almost impossible.
The government has laid out its proposals, for a new settled status, for EU nationals exercising Treaty rights in the UK and for those arriving after the UK formally leaves the EU. Nevertheless, the proposals are extremely light on details, making it difficult for EU nationals to assess the best way forward. That is, whether to apply to certify their permanent residence status, thereafter apply for British citizenship, or simply wait and see how the plans for new settled status materialise.
Much will depend on the circumstances of the individual EU national, and we have listed some of those considerations above. And of course, we must remember that the proposals, at least for now, are just that…published plans to be negotiated with the EU. As such, they are subject to change. So we will watch this space and keep you updated.
Written by Carla Thomas – Managing Director at Thomas Chase immigration. Thomas Chase Immigration offer immigration solutions to businesses, individuals and families looking for friendly, straightforward advice.
Call to action
If you would like further guidance on the rights of EU citizens or assistance with an application for a permanent residence document, contact us at Thomas Chase Immigration to arrange a consultation. Or learn more about immigration from our blogs.
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