In order to stay in the UK lawfully after the end of the transition period, all EU citizens in the UK have to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Under the Scheme, EU citizens will be given either pre-settled or settled status. To obtain pre-settled status (which gives EU citizens temporary residence in the UK for a limited period of five years), an applicant does not have to prove much: they must simply show that they have arrived in the UK before 31 December 2020. For settled status (which gives EU citizens permanent residence rights in the UK), it is a different story.
An applicant wanting to obtain settled status will have to demonstrate that they have been continuously resident in the UK for five years. What does that mean exactly? In this post, we have a look at the law which applies in this scenario to try and get a better idea.
The way Appendix EU to the immigration rules, which sets out the legal framework for the EU Settlement Scheme, defines continuous qualifying residence for the acquisition of permanent residence is based on the idea of a 6 month out of 12 months “rolling” residency. The definition of “continuous qualifying period” in Appendix EU states:
a period of residence in the UK and Islands…
(b) during which none of the following occurred:
(i) absence(s) from the UK and Islands which exceeded a total of six months in any 12-month period [emphasis added]
Imagine a scenario where an applicant, Serge, moved to the UK from France in April 2016. Until June 2019 he only went home for a few weekends and holidays, so he does not have to worry about his absences for his first three years of residence. In July 2019, his fourth year of residence, however, Serge went back to France for the summer and was absent from the UK until the end of September (three full months). He then came back to London, until January 2020, when he went back to France. He was supposed to return to London in February, but ended up staying abroad until May 2020, facilitated by him working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an absence of four full months in the calendar year of 2020.
But Appendix EU does not work in calendar years. Rather, it analyses periods of residence on a 12-month rolling basis. As a consequence, Appendix EU would interpret the above-mentioned scenario to mean that Serge has broken his continuous qualifying period on account of combining the three months absence in year 4 with the four-month absence in year 5 resulting in a combined absence of seven months in a 12-month period. The drafting of the criteria does not allow the citizen to demarcate the absences into separate 12-month periods.
When it comes to COVID-19 related absences, the Home Office have said that they will be flexible, and consider it as an exception to the 6-month rule if need be. Serge might then be able to rely on this exception when he applies for settled status in April 2021. However, the validity of this exception is not guaranteed, but rather subject to Home Office discretion. In addition, not all applicants will be able to do the same
The Court of Justice of the EU has held that periods of continuous legal residence confer on EU citizens the right of permanent residence with effect from the actual moment at which they are completed. This means that the continuous period of five years legal residence that leads to the acquisition of the right of permanent residence is to be counted from the moment the EU citizen takes up residence in the host Member State in compliance with the residence conditions of the Free Movement Directive.
In fact, the definition of “continuous qualifying period” in Appendix EU does not comply with provisions regarding continuous residence in the EU Free Movement Directive and the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. The rule from those legal instruments is that an EU citizen may have temporary absences not exceeding a total of six months within each year leading up to the acquisition of the right of permanent residence, and that each year starts on the anniversary of the date when the EU citizen took up residence in the host Member State in compliance with the residence conditions of the Free Movement Directive, meaning that absences in different years must not be added up.
It should be noted that the way the Home Office calculate qualifying residence for permanent residence under the EEA Regulations (implementing the Citizens’ Directive in domestic legislation), is not clear on this matter as there has been a change in Home Office guidance instructing case workers how to assess the continuous residence requirement. Former guidance stated that the Home Office would consider absence is based on a year 1 to 5 from when the EU citizen began their UK residence. Current guidance states that a six months absence in any 12-month period would break continuous residence without reference to calculating this on a year by year basis. Therefore, the current interpretation of continuous residence under the EEA Regulations is in conflict with Appendix EU. This could easily be remedied by changing the guidance back, and ensuring that EU citizens get the status they are entitled to.