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What does the COVID pandemic mean for EU Citizens living outside the UK with EU Pre-Settled or Settled Status?

As we approach the deadline for applying under the EU Settlement Scheme (30 June 2021) and a year on from when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, those who have already applied under the scheme may be concerned about extended absences from the UK and the implications such absences may have for their long-term immigration status.

Pre-Settled Status

Pre-Settled status is permission to remain granted to EU citizens who were resident in the UK prior to 1 January 2021 but who have not yet resided continuously for the five years necessary for Settled Status (permanent residence). Permission is granted for five years to enable sufficient time to qualify.

Under the EU Settlement Scheme, individuals who are absent from the country for long periods do not automatically lose their Pre-Settled status. They will be able to return to the UK whilst it remains valid.

Nevertheless, such an absence, if prolonged, may jeopardise the individual’s right to apply for Settled Status. Based on the current regulations, continuous residence is recognised only if the applicant has not spent more than 6 months within any 12 months outside the UK. At the end of the 5-year period, the applicant must apply to convert their status to Settled Status to remain in the UK – there is not an option to extend Pre-Settled Status. If an individual does not qualify for, or fails to apply for Settled Status, they will no longer be entitled to remain in the UK on the basis of EUSS and will need to consider applying under another UK immigration route if they wish to remain in the country.

There are some circumstances where absences in excess 6 months in any year can be disregarded. For example, EU citizens are permitted one absence of up 12 months for an exceptional reason, such as childbirth, vocational training or severe illness. Based on these rules, in respect of the coronavirus health emergency, the 12-month absence exemption would only apply to applicants who spent time abroad because they became ill due to COVID-19 (serious illness). However, this exception will not include any time spent outside the UK before contracting the disease. Additionally, if someone has made a conscious decision to remain abroad – e.g. for economic reasons, because they want to be closer to their family members or because they consider the risk to their health to be greater in the UK than in another country – the guidance implies these reasons will not be sufficient to establish an exception.

Settled Status

Settled Status is a similar concept to Indefinite Leave to Remain or Permanent Residence and is granted upon five years residence in the UK. Once granted, the individual has no time restriction upon their stay in the UK and will be eligible to apply to naturalise as a British citizen in due course (subject to a wholly different set of criteria). Under the current rules, once someone already has Settled Status, they can spend up to five years outside the UK without losing it.

If you require assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme or UK Immigration requirements do not hesitate to contact the team at Magrath Sheldrick LLP – CONTACT


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