Applications to the EU Settlement Scheme have undoubtedly been affected by the Coronavirus lockdown. The pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone in the UK and across the world. To date the main focus has been on helping businesses survive and employees keep their jobs. However, there are many EU Nationals, both inside and outside the UK, who are unsure how COVID-19 will impact their plans to remain in the UK post Brexit.
EU Settlement Scheme Applications
We set out some details below of how applications to the EU Settlement Scheme are working during the Coronavirus lockdown.
The time frames for the EU Settlement Scheme
EU Nationals have until 30 December 2020 to enter the UK under the current free movement rules. They then have until 30 June 2021 to register under the EU Settlement Scheme to retain their right to remain in the UK.
If a person has 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK they will qualify for settled status and the right to remain in the UK indefinitely. If they don’t yet have 5 years’ continuous residence they will be granted pre-settled status and allowed to remain in the UK until they meet the 5 year requirement, when they will need to apply for settled status.
Can you still apply to the EU Settlement Scheme during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Yes. It is still possible to make an application under the EU Settlement Scheme. Applications must be made online. The postal option (which can only be used in a small amount of cases anyway) is currently suspended.
Applicants have to prove their identity, prove they have lived in the UK for 5 years (for settled status) or less than 5 years (for pre-settled status) and pass a criminal records check. The Home Office will then run an automatic check of HRMC and benefits records to verify the applicant’s residence in the UK.
How do you get your documents approved during the Coronavirus pandemic?
The EU Exit: ID Document Check app is still running to complete the identity stage of the application. However, the Home Office has made it clear in its guidance that it might take longer to process any applications.
Will an application be affected if the person is currently stuck outside the UK due to COVID-19?
EU Nationals currently stuck outside the UK for longer than they initially anticipated, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, are concerned this might affect their application.
To qualify for settled status, an EU National can’t have been absent from the UK for over 6 months in any 12-month period in their qualifying period of 5 years. Although there is some discretion in the rules for absences of up to 12 months if the absence was due to an “important reason” (which does generally cover serious illness).
As there is already some discretion in the rules for absences due to an important reason, we hope the Home Office will take a lenient approach to absences due to the Coronavirus. Especially as they have exercised discretion in other areas for those affected by the current travel restrictions. However, we are awaiting further guidance from the Government on this. Flights are still operating from several European countries, albeit on a reduced service. As it is possible to return to the UK in some circumstances, any EU national seeking to rely on COVID-19 as the reason they could not return will need to keep evidence of the reasons for this to support any application.
EU Nationals who have been resident in the UK for a significant length of time before the current crisis may be able to rely on a previous period of residence in order to qualify for settled status, as long as they have a qualifying period of 5 years’ residence in the UK at some stage in the past. It is not necessary to be currently resident in the UK as long as the EU national was resident in the UK for 5 years in the past and has not been absent for a continuous period of 5 years since. EU nationals in this situation should take specific legal advice on their application.
Alternatively, as long as an EU National has returned to the UK before 30 December 2020 they would at least be granted pre-settled status and could build up their entitlement to settled status again. Although undeniably frustrating as this would take a further 5 years to achieve, it would at least preserve the right to live and work in the UK for the future.
Is the final Brexit date going to be changed as a result of COVID-19?
We are also watching and waiting to see if the transition period (which is currently due to end in December 2020) will be extended. There have been rumours circulating that this may happen as COVID-19 has affected the negotiations between the parties. If Brexit is delayed beyond December 2020, it is possible that EU Nationals will be given a bit longer to make their return to the UK. However, this shouldn’t be relied upon and EU Nationals seeking to remain in the UK after 30 December 2020 should return to the UK as soon as possible to protect their position.
If the Coronavirus has affected your application under the EU Settlement Scheme or you have questions about your entitlement as an EU National to live and work in the UK, please contact our Immigration Team who will be happy to help.
We also have a page “Coronavirus – Legal advice and guidance” which is continually being updated as new/updated guidance comes through from the government and other regulatory bodies on all Coronavirus related issues. If you would like to receive email notification as and when this page is updated or new guidance added just complete the simple registration form on the page.