2020 was a year like no other. Who would have thought that travel to and from and within the UK would be so disrupted with families being forced to live apart from one another, whether as a result of social distancing, tiers and lockdowns within the UK, or through international travel restrictions resulting in people being absent from the UK for far longer than they’d planned. In this blog our immigration and settled status solicitors look at the topic of the EU Settlement Scheme and the impact of extended absences on settled status applications.
UK immigration and settled status solicitors
London based OTS Solicitors specialise in immigration law so for expert immigration and settled status legal advice on extended absences call the friendly expert team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or by telephone appointment.
The end of free movement
The end of free movement for EU nationals will take place at 11 pm on the 31 December 2020. That means that settled status solicitors are receiving increasing numbers of enquiries from those looking at applying for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The deadline for pre-settled status and settled status applications isn’t until the 30 June 2021 but applicants must be living in the UK prior to the 31 December 2020 to meet the eligibility criteria for a successful EU Settlement Scheme application.
Large numbers of EU nationals have had their plans changed and lives turned upside down this year because of Covid-19 and are questioning whether unplanned or unexpectedly long absences away from the UK will affect their settled status or pre-settled status application.
Settled status solicitors say that on the 15 December 2020 the Home Office published a guide setting out Home Office policy on EU nationals (and their family members) on Covid-19 related absences from the UK (Coronavirus (COVID-19): EU Settlement Scheme - guidance for applicants) and how these periods out of the UK could impact on those who:
- Have secured settled status
- Plan to apply for settled status
- Have secured pre-settled status
- Plan to apply for pre-settled status.
Extended absences from the UK for EU nationals with settled status or planning to apply for settled status
If you are an EU citizen who has successfully applied for settled status (or you meet the eligibility criteria for settled status because you have lived in the UK for five years so have completed your five year “continuous qualifying period”) you are entitled to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing your right to live in the UK.
If you meet the continuous qualifying period for settled status it is important to ensure that you can evidence it. If you can't then you may only be granted pre-settled status and different rules apply to eligibility for pre-settled status if you are absent from the UK for an extended period.
Extended absences from the UK for EU nationals with pre-settled status or planning to apply for pre-settled status
EU nationals and their family members qualify for settled status after completing a ‘’continuous qualifying period’’ of five years of residence in the UK provided the EU citizen’s residence commenced before 11 pm on the 31 December 2020. If you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for settled status then you can look at whether you meet the eligibility criteria for pre-settled status. If you are an EU national who lived in the UK for less than five years (starting before 11 pm on the 31 December 2020) then you may qualify for pre-settled status and can secure your settled status once you have five years of continuous residence.
Pre-settled status lasts for five years but if you stop your continuous residence (for example because of long absences out of the UK related to work or for other reasons) but you return to the UK before the 31 December 2020, then you will need to apply for pre-settled status again to enable you to complete your continuous qualifying period of five years for settled status.
Your ability to move from pre-settled status to settled status is lost if your continuous qualifying period is broken and you return to the UK after 11 pm on the 31 December 2020. In addition, you won't qualify as eligible to apply for pre-settled status again if you arrive in the UK after the end of free movement. That’s why, if you have pre-settled status or are eligible to apply, the rules on extended absences from the UK are so important to you.
The Home Office December 2020 guidance covers absences from the UK connected to Covid-19 and applies to EU citizens and their family members who have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or those who are eligible but have not applied.
The general rule on absences from the UK for those with pre-settled status or eligible to apply for pre-settled status is that if you are absent from the UK for more than six months, you:
- May lose your right to secure settled status if you don’t return to the UK before the 31 December 2020
- If you do return to the UK before the 31 December 2020 but you have been absent for longer than the settled status rules allow then you will need to apply for pre-settled status again to start a new five year qualifying period. That means it will take you a lot longer than anticipated to secure settled status.
If you have pre-settled status there are exceptions to absences for up to six-months in a twelve month rolling period and in addition the rules say that you can be absent from the UK for a single period of absence of more than 6 months provided that your absence does not exceed 12 months if your absence is for an important reason. The EU appendix cites pregnancy, childbirth, serious illness, or study as examples of important reasons.
The December 2020 Home Office guidance addresses Covid-19 related absences from the UK and the eligibility criteria for the EU Settlement Scheme when you have been absent from the UK for between six and 12 months.
The December 2020 guidance says that Covid-19 is accepted as an “important reason” for a six to twelve month absence from the UK in limited circumstances. The circumstances don’t include:
- Deciding to remain out of the UK for work or financial reasons
- Wanting to stay with overseas family members during the pandemic
- Thinking that it is safer to not stay in the UK as Covid-19 rates are lower in your country of nationality.
The December 2020 guidance says that Covid-19 is accepted as an “important reason” for a six to twelve month absence from the UK in forced circumstances, such as:
- Covid-19 travel restrictions
- Covid-19 illness and related health complications
- Covid-19 quarantine
- Students enrolled at British universities who have been allowed to study online by their university.
Any absence from the UK that exceeds twelve months will break your continuous qualifying period, even if it is Covid-19 related. For example, you returned overseas in December 2019 planning to stay with family for three months but your absence from the UK was then extended beyond twelve months due to a variety of reasons, including Covid-19 illness and travel restrictions.
How can settled status help you?
If you are worried about how your absence from the UK or how your planned departure may affect your eligibility for the EU Settlement Scheme or break your continuous qualifying period then speak to the settled status solicitors as quickly as possible given the complexity of the rules and potential for you to have to make a fresh application before the 31 December 2020.
UK immigration and settled status solicitors
London based OTS Solicitors specialise in immigration law. If you need specialist immigration law advice on your extended absence from the UK and your settled status call the friendly expert team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or by telephone appointment.
For the best expert legal advice and outcome on your UK immigration application, contact OTS immigration solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.
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Posted on: Thursday, 31 December, 2020