After almost four years of uncertainty, three prime ministers and three elections, Brexit is happening. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill has received royal assent, confirming Britain’s exit from the EU on January 31st at 11 p.m.
When the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, the event was celebrated with the minting of a 50p coin, 11 days of cultural events, and a football match. Similarly, the exit is set to be marked with grandeur. The government is going to unveil a new 50p coin reading “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.” There will also be a projection of a clock counting down to 11 p.m. on Downing Street buildings and City Hall will open its doors to offer free legal advice to EU citizens.
Though the reality of Britain’s parting from the European Union is now clear, many EU citizens living in the UK are still uncertain about their status, rights and instructions on how to remain in the UK.
Approximately 3.5 million EU citizens are living in the UK. Britain’s departure from the EU means that EU nationals no longer attain the Freedom of Movement, the right to live and work in the UK. EU nationals must go through government procedures to gain legal status to remain in the UK.
By the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, 2020, persons may be asked to prove their rights in the UK. Rights can be proven by showing ‘pre-settled status’ or ‘settled status’ under the EU Settlement Scheme, though debates around physical proof are inconclusive.
Who can apply?
EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens who reside in the UK by 31st December 2020 without a serious criminal record can apply to have a settled or pre-settled status. EU citizens who already have a permanent residence card must also apply as their document is based on EU law and will become invalid in the future.
What is a pre-settled status?
Pre-settled status is a UK immigration status that is also known as Limited Leave to Remain. It is for those who have lived in the UK for less than five years and is granted for five years unless one leaves the country for over two consecutive years in that duration. The ability to change the status to “settled” can be lost if one spends over six months abroad in any 12 month period of the five years. It can also be revoked for subsequent criminal offending.
Pre-settled EU nationals need to re-apply to become settled before their pre-settled status expires. This can be done after five years of continuous residence.
This status lets one enjoy the rights to live, work, and access the healthcare system, but it does not count as “right to reside” which covers welfare benefits.
What is a settled status?
Settled status is another type of UK immigration status and is also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain. It can be attained if one has lived in the UK for over five years, during which the time spent abroad in any 12 months is less than six months. The status can be kept forever but lost if one leaves the UK for over five years consecutively. For Swiss citizens, the limitation is four years. One can enjoy all rights to live, work, healthcare and welfare as UK citizens. Those settled can apply for British citizenship after one year of holding the status – unless married to a British citizen – in which case one can apply straight away.
What is needed to apply?
The application can be filled out online, sent by post, or submitted via a smartphone app.
Applicants need proof of three things:
- ID (e.g. a valid passport, national identity card or biometric card);
- Residence in the UK (National Insurance Number can be given to allow an automated check of your residence based on tax and certain benefit records or have a look at this list of eligible proof of residing)
- Relationship to a family member from the EU living in the UK, if they want to come to the UK from outside the EU.
A criminal check and a recent photo of oneself is also required.
If the application is successful, a letter of confirmation regarding your status will be emailed. The status can be viewed to prove to someone else online only.
Lack of physical proof of status
According to the EU citizen’s rights group the3million, receiving a digital pre-settled or settled status is not enough.
“We want a status that is ours – with proof that we can hold in our hands,” they said. The digital status of settlement takes several steps to present to employers and can be an issue for those without accessibility to technology or digital skills, despite having it.
The government has argued that “the EU Settlement Scheme protects the rights of the EU citizens in UK law and gives them a secure digital status, which unlike a physical document, cannot be lost, stolen, damaged or tampered with,” in response to petitions asking for physical documents of proof. However, cases show that some digital statuses show missing information, ask to retry, or present error screens.
Regardless of the discrepancies, it is essential for all EU citizens to obtain a settlement status in order to continue practicing their rights in the UK.