EU Settlement Scheme
17 June 2021
On 10 June 2021, just weeks before the EU Settlement Scheme application deadline, the Home Office published its official guidance for applicants whose continuous residence in the UK has been affected by COVID-19.
The guidance has been published following a successful legal challenge by the charity Here for Good, who argued that the Home Office’s original guidance unlawfully penalised those who chose to comply with public health guidance by avoiding non-essential travel, and those were impacted by travel disruptions. The new guidance acts as a concession outside the Immigration Rules until Appendix EU is formally amended.
The updated policy means that many more individuals may be eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, where previously they would have exceeded the permitted absence period from the UK and broken the required period of continuous residence.
It is important to note that eligible individuals should still apply to the scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021 if they have not already done so, although applications may still be approved where there are reasonable grounds for applying late.
Absences of up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’
Under Appendix EU, you are permitted to be absent from the UK for a single period of up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’, such as pregnancy, childbirth, serious illness, study or an overseas posting.
The new guidance states that other acceptable ‘important reasons’ relating to coronavirus include:
- You were ill with coronavirus
- You were in quarantine, self-isolating or shielding
- You were caring for a family member affected by coronavirus
- You were prevented from returning to the UK due to travel disruptions
- You were advised by your university or employer not to return to the UK and to work or study remotely from your home country
- You were absent from the UK for another reason relating to coronavirus.
Absences not intended to exceed 6 months and did not exceed 12 months
Under Appendix EU, your ‘continuous qualifying period’ of residence will not be broken where, for any reason, you have been absent for no more than 6 months in any 12-month period.
However, the new concessions mean that you will not be treated as exceeding the permitted absence period if you intended to be absent for no more than 6 months, but exceeded this due to any coronavirus related reason, as outlined above.
Absences exceeding 12 months
The policy states that individuals who have a single absence from the UK of more than 12 months for an ‘important reason’ can still apply to the EUSS if they can evidence that their extended absence was because coronavirus prevented them from, or they were advised against, returning to the UK within 12 months and for a period thereafter.
Period of absence exceeding 12 months will not count towards your continuous qualifying period, and this will be ‘paused’ from the point your absence reached 12 months and will resume when you return to the UK.
If your pre-settled status will expire before the point at which you are eligible for settlement, you will be able to make a further application for pre-settled status.
Second periods of absence
Appendix EU rules state that you can only have a single period of absence lasting up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’. However, if you then have a second period of absence exceeding 6 months in any 12-month period for an ‘important reason’, you will still be eligible to apply to the EUSS if one of those absence periods was due to the pandemic.
This means you can rely on any coronavirus related reason (including where you chose to leave or remain outside the UK because of the pandemic) as the basis for requiring a second period of absence of up to 12 months. In these circumstances, you will be treated as not having broken your continuous qualifying period of residence.
What evidence can be provided?
Applications to the scheme are submitted online. When completing an application, you will be able to upload additional evidence to show how COVID-19 affected your ability to return to the UK. Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and Home Office caseworkers will adopt a flexible approach to the evidence provided. However, you may be contacted for further information or evidence to support your application if the caseworker feels this is necessary.
Examples of acceptable evidence includes, but is not limited to:
- Used travel tickets confirming the date you left the UK and returned
- Confirmation of flight cancellations detailing the dates and times
- Doctor’s letters confirming you contracted coronavirus or you were identified as vulnerable and were advised to shield
- Official letter confirming you were in coronavirus quarantine
- Letter from your employer or University advising you not to return to the UK and to study or work remotely
- Letter or other evidence from you accounting for your absence for another reason relating to coronavirus.
Confused by continuous residency requirements?
For more information about the EU Settlement Scheme continuous residence requirements and COVID-19 concessions, please contact Smith Stone Walters.