On Friday 22nd June, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced more details on the scheme that will allow EU citizens to obtain settled status in the UK post-Brexit. As Legal 500 recommended Immigration firm OTS Solicitors indicated, this will be of some comfort to the many EU citizens worried about their position since the Brexit referendum in 2016. One of the assurances that has now been given is that EU citizens holding permanent residence will be able to swap this for settled status without payment of a fee. One of the questions being asked of many immigration lawyers is whether EU citizens should put their permanent residence application on hold in view of the latest announcements on the settled status scheme for EU citizens, or whether they should continue.
What is permanent residence for EU citizens?
EU (and EEA) citizens automatically acquire permanent residence in the UK after 5 years of being here ‘exercising treaty rights’ – this includes working, looking for work, and studying. There’s no formal application process for permanent residence rights – it’s something that is automatically acquired by the individual through the operation of EU law and will continue to be granted to EU citizens until the UK leaves the EU. Should an EU citizen wish to apply for British citizenship, he or she needs to acquire a permanent residence card. This was a change introduced back in 2015 by the British nationality (General) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/1806). As British citizenship lawyers are quick to point out, the permanent residence card simply evidences the permanent residence that the EU citizen already has.
Our immigration solicitors often advise clients to obtain permanent residence cards, even if they do not intend to apply for British citizenship, as they can assist EU citizens when applying for jobs (employers do not always understand immigration rules, and there is now an obligation on all employers to check that employees have the ‘right to work’ in the UK). Possessing a permanent residence card can also make the position easier with respect to any family members who are 3rd country nationals (that is, not EU citizens or EEA citizens). As members of the Windrush generation have discovered, evidence of the right to be in the UK can be lost over time and obtaining evidence of your permanent residence rights in the form of a permanent residence card provides significant security.
How will settled status be different from permanent residence?
Settled status is the approach the UK government is taking to safeguard the rights of EU citizens who have been living and working in the UK for many years. The streamlined application process is being introduced specifically to achieve this. According to the recent letter sent out by the Home Office to those on its EU citizens ‘Brexit’ mailing list
“Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK has always been our first priority and the agreement we reached with the EU earlier this year did just that. The rights that you and your family currently have are protected which include access to healthcare, benefits and pensions.”
The UK Government has indicated on its website that permanent residence documents will not be valid after 31 December 2020; however, that doesn’t mean that you should put your application for permanent residence on hold.
• There is still some uncertainty around the settled status scheme and the application process. Technically, the UK government must achieve the implementation of a complex system interfacing with other government departments including Work and Pensions and HMRC to allow the decision makers to have access to all the information they need to be able to grant settled status. It is conceivable that this will lead to delays, in which case your permanent residence will be very valuable.
• You will be able to continue with your application for British citizenship, if this is what you wish to do. Although you will be able to apply for British citizenship once you have settled status (subject to the usual eligibility rules), if you postpone, you may have to wait longer until you have settled status. The settled status scheme is not anticipated to be fully operational until March 2019, and we do not know how long applications will take to be resolved, despite government assurances that it will be a swift and straightforward process. If you obtain your permanent residence card and have had permanent residence for at least a year (so 5 years acquiring the rights, plus one year), you will then be able to apply for your permanent residence.
• You will be able to exchange your permanent residence card for settled status for no additional charge. In addition, there will be no reassessment of your rights to be in the UK – according to the guidance currently available it will be a simple administrative exercise of exchanging one for the other.
Although the best immigration solicitors in London welcome the clarification around settled status, OTS Solicitors immigration solicitors continue to encourage EU citizens and EEA citizens to consider obtaining permanent residence cards, and not to put their applications on hold. Having already submitted the application, it is worth continuing with the application and then simply converting to settled status once the settled status scheme is fully operational.
Legal 500 recommended immigration lawyers OTS Solicitors regularly support and advise EU citizens and EEA citizens and their family members on their applications for permanent residence cards and subsequent applications for British citizenship if this is required. As Brexit continues to create uncertainty for those living and working in the UK from other EU and EEA nations, our top London immigration lawyers can provide practical assistance leading to the successful acquisition of your permanent residence card. Book your appointment today by calling 0203 959 9123.
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Posted on: Tuesday, 26 June, 2018