Best pathways for EU Nationals to obtain British citizenship
Most people would agree that we are living in very difficult times but for EU nationals living and working in the UK it is getting that much harder with the deadline for the end of free movement fast approaching on the 31 December 2020 and the Home Office change in policy making it tougher for some EU citizens to obtain British citizenship. In this article we look at the best pathways for EU nationals to secure British Citizenship.
British Citizenship solicitors
London based OTS Solicitors specialise in all aspects of immigration law and can answer all your British citizenship and Brexit related immigration queries whether you’re an EU national living in the UK or an EU citizen planning to move to the UK and settle here. For the best Brexit solutions and British Citizenship advice call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or by telephone appointment.
Brexit, settled status and beyond
Brexit made many EEA nationals question their future in the UK and whether they should continue to live and work in the UK or return ‘home’. For many EU citizens, the UK is home and so they rightly struggled to see why they should complete an application for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme when they had entered the UK using the EU principle of free movement. They therefore didn’t see why they needed to complete a settled status application by a deadline or face being subject to Immigration controls when it wasn’t them, but the UK government, that had ‘shifted the goal posts’ by electing to come out of the EU.
Many EU citizens have now applied for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme having concluded that as the UK is viewed as ‘home’ that they should not ‘settle’ with settled status and instead they should go onto apply for British citizenship.
Immigration solicitors say that for those who haven’t yet applied for settled status the deadline to be living in the UK exercising free movement rights is the 31 December 2020. You then have until the 30 June 2021 to apply for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. If you don’t apply by the deadline then you will be subject to Immigration controls in the same way as non-EEA citizens unless the government brings in secondary legislation and you are classed as a vulnerable EU national who had a reasonable excuse to miss the June 2021 deadline.
Does settled status guarantee a successful British Citizenship application?
You would think that if you have secured settled status then you would be guaranteed British Citizenship once you meet any necessary residence requirements but settled status doesn’t mean you will meet all the eligibility criteria for becoming a British citizen.
Do I have to apply for British Citizenship or can I remain in the UK with settled status?
You don’t have to apply for British Citizenship if you want to say in the UK free of Immigration controls provided that you have secured pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. You may however chose to apply for British citizenship because:
- Although settled status gives an EU citizen indefinite leave to stay in the UK it doesn’t give you British Citizenship or dual nationality ( dual nationality is an option if your country of origin allows for dual nationality)
- You are free to travel outside of the UK and remain absent from the UK for any period of time if you have British Citizenship
- You are free to vote and you acquire all the rights of someone who was born British.
What is the eligibility criteria for British Citizenship if I have settled status?
If you have settled status (or you are planning to get it) then the eligibility criteria for British Citizenship is the same as for any other non-UK citizen who wants to become a British citizen, namely:
- You are eighteen or over
- You are of good character in accordance with the Home Office rules of what is meant by ‘good character‘
- You meet the English language requirement and the Life in the UK test
- You meet the British Citizenship residence requirement – either three or five years depending on your personal circumstances and provided that you haven’t exceeded the absence from the UK rules
- Unless you are married to a British citizen or in a civil partnership, you intend to continue to live in the UK.
EU nationals, British Citizenship and the good character test
It would be natural for EU citizens to assume that if you have secured settled status you must be of sufficient good character to obtain British citizenship but that isn’t the case. In addition, despite the government saying that it wanted to attract and retain the brightest and best non-UK nationals in the UK , on the 30 September 2020, the rules on good character for British Citizenship were changed, making it that much harder for some EEA and Swiss citizens to secure British Citizenship.
What has changed? On the 30 September 2020 the Home Office updated the good character policy for British naturalisation applications increasing the period of time from five years to ten years that some EEA or Swiss citizens in the UK must have held either:
- Comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI) or
- A European health insurance card (EHIC) issued by an EU country.
This change in policy may affect you if:
- You want to apply for British Citizenship – it doesn’t affect your settled status application
- You are an EEA or Swiss national or a dependant of an EEA or Swiss national and you were economically inactive for a period (for example, as a home maker, a student or self-sufficient) whilst living in the UK in the ten years prior to your British naturalisation application. It should not affect you if you were either employed or self-employed or a family member of a person who didn’t need to have either CIS or an EHIC.
What happens if you don’t have Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card?
If you don’t have Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card and you are an EEA or Swiss national who needed one then this may affect the Home Office assessment of your ‘good character’ that forms part of your British Citizenship application process.
When looking at whether you meet the good character test Home Office officials will go back up to ten years if you have lived in the UK for that length of time or , if less than ten years, they will go back to the date of your move to the UK. If you should have had Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card this could result in you not meeting the good character test although Home Office officials are allowed to exercise discretion when assessing some aspects of good character.
Good character and the need for Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card
Being of good character to meet the criteria for British citizenship is a requirement contained in Schedule 1 to the British nationality Act 1981 (the Act). The Act is supplemented by Home Office policy guides providing Home Office caseworkers with guidance on what is meant by ‘good character’ in the absence of a legal definition in the Act.
One aspect of good character is your compliance or failure to comply with Immigration requirements and that is where the importance of the Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card becomes relevant to your British naturalisation application.
Under the British nationality Act you need to have been living lawfully in the UK for a minimum period of three or five years to secure British citizenship. For an EEA or Swiss citizen this means exercising EU Treaty rights. You are not deemed to have been exercising Treaty rights if you weren’t economically active and didn’t hold either Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card and therefore you were in breach of Immigration Rules. That is the case even if you did not know the law and the requirement to hold CIS or EHIC.
Whilst the Home Office was previously of the view that the absence of Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card went to your good character assessment, the Home Office guidance issued on the 30 September 2020 emphasises the need to look back over ten years (or shorter period if you haven’t been in the UK for ten years) and to take into account whether you
- Were subject to the EEA Regulations 2016 or the Immigration Act 1971 and
- Complied with the relevant requirements to get either Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card.
Your five years of continuous residence for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme doesn’t help your British naturalisation application if you didn’t comply with the Immigration requirements. To many it seems very odd that this aspect of Immigration requirements can be ignored for settled status applications with indefinite leave to stay in the UK but not for British Citizenship applications.
The updated guidance goes onto say that caseworkers should look at the reasons why Comprehensive sickness insurance or a European health insurance card was not obtained before deciding whether or not to exercise discretion. Frustratingly for EEA and Swiss nationals applying for British Citizenship the new guidance doesn’t say how Home Office officials should exercise their discretion.
Should I apply for British Citizenship?
If you are an EEA or Swiss national who is potentially affected by the new Home Office guidance then it is best to take legal advice from a British citizenship solicitor on whether you should make a British naturalisation application, the timing and the content of your application to ensure that if you have a gap in the exercise of Treaty rights your British naturalisation application addresses this to best secure Home Office discretion and the grant of your British Citizenship application.
How can the British Citizenship team at OTS Solicitors help?
At central London based OTS Solicitors the British Citizenship and settled status solicitors in the Brexit team can advise EU nationals on your best Brexit options and provide a same day Settled Status service and advice on British naturalisation applications.
For information on our Brexit and British Citizenship immigration services call the Brexit team hotline on 0203 959 9123 or use our contact form. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or by telephone appointment.
About OTS Solicitors
OTS Solicitors specialise in immigration law and are recommended in the two leading law directories, The Legal 500 and Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession. If you require expert immigration law advice that you can trust, call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us here.