COVID-19 and the EU
23 September 2020
Since the introduction of lockdown measures and global travel bans to help combat COVID-19, campaign groups and charities have been calling on the UK government to make adjustments to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to protect the rights of EU citizens who have been impacted by the pandemic.
EU citizens who are living in the UK by 31 December 2020 are eligible to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), and have until 30 June 2021 to submit an application. Successful applicants will be granted settled or pre-settled status, which will afford them certain rights such as the right to work or study in the UK, access free healthcare and travel in and out of the UK.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic means hundreds of EU citizens may have unwittingly breached the scheme’s continuous residence requirements by returning to their home country and subsequently finding themselves unable to return to the UK due to lockdown measures or travel restrictions.
What are the continuous residence rules?
Individuals applying for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme must have lived in the UK ‘continuously’ for at least five years, never leaving the UK for more than six months in any 12 month period. Applicants may need to provide proof of this when submitting an application to the Home Office.
Bans on non-essential travel throughout the pandemic have led to many EU citizens exceeding the six-month absence period. Since excessive absences from the UK need to declared when applying for settled status, there is growing concern over how the Home Office authorities will interpret such involuntary absences.
With this in mind, campaigners are urging the Home Office to exempt applicants from the continuous residence requirements when they have been absent from the UK for over six months due to COVID-19, to ensure no EU citizen is forced out of their status and rights through no fault of their own.
What is the Home Office advice?
Smith Stone Walters’ Senior Account Manager Kiran recently contacted the EU Settlement Scheme team at UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to find out how an individual’s application for settlement may be impacted if they have unintentionally breached the continuous residence rules during the pandemic.
The reply from UKVI stated that if an applicant’s current absence from the UK is not out of choice, but directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they should clearly state this on their application, providing all relevant evidence to prove they were unable to return to the UK.
Evidence that could be provided includes:
- Any correspondence on COVID-19 travel disruptions from airlines, travel agencies, their embassy or consulate, Public Health England or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Any correspondence from Public Health England or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the current COVID-19 travel disruptions
- Evidence of communications with the airline demonstrating they were unable to return to the UK on a pre-booked return flight
- Proof of any further travel arrangements they made as a result of travel disruptions
The UKVI representative also reiterated that any applicant applying for settled status will be contacted directly if any further information or evidence is required, to give them every opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility.
What about settlement applications from non-EU citizens?
Although this advice relates to European nationals applying to the EU Settlement Scheme, it is likely that the same rules will apply to any foreign national submitting an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), where they have been absent from the UK for over six months due to COVID-19.
Smith Stone Walters would advise any applicant who has been stuck outside of the UK for an extended period due to COVID-19 to obtain relevant evidence to support their absence, or seek advice from a qualified immigration advisor.
Get support with your settlement application
If you need help with submitting an application to the EU Settlement Scheme, or if you are a non-EU national seeking Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK, Smith Stone Walters can help.
Our team of expert immigration advisors will guide you through every step of the process to ensure your application for settlement is as stress-free as possible. Contact a member of the team today.