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New guidance from the UK Home Office for EU nationals affected by Coronavirus

There are about two weeks left before the UK officially leaves the European Union. If you have not secured your status or checked your eligibility, we strongly suggest you act as soon as possible as the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) eligibility deadline of 31 December 2020 is approaching!

If you are a business wishes to employ staff migrant workers, including EEA nationals arriving from 1 January 2021, you will need to register with the Home Office as an approved sponsor. For more information about sponsoring migrant workers and right to work checks, please check our article HERE.

This week the Home Office published its long-awaited guidance for European nationals and its family members to explain the effect of Coronavirus on them and their applications. This guidance applies to all applicants both in and outside of the UK.

It is an important and necessary guidance because many people had to leave the UK or could not return to the UK for an extended period. Such absences could have detrimental effect on their eligibility to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme or even British Nationality.

What is this guidance about?

The guidance provides clarifications and reassurance for EU applicants affected by restrictions associated with Coronavirus in three aspects:

  1. clarifying exceptions for prolonged absences of over 6 months outside of the UK.
  2. effects of furlough or loss of work on the lawful residence in the UK.
  3. allowing applicants to provide alternative evidence of identity.
  4. allowing applicants to provide further information and documentation by emails.

Continuous qualifying period under the EU Settlement Scheme

Applicants who wish to apply for settled status under the EUSS must be very familiar with the concept of the continuous qualifying period. To qualify for a Settled Status, you must have been in the UK for 5 years with residence at least 6 months in each 12 months period.

If you are or were unable to return to the UK as planned due to Covid-19, your continuous residence could be broken. Here are the things you may want to know:

Absence for less than 6 months in any 12 months

Did you have a single or multiple absences from the UK for up to 6 months in any 12 months? Such absences will not break your continuous qualifying period. You do not need to provide additional evidence to prove the reasons for your absences.

Single absence between 6 months and 12 months

If you have had a single long absence from the UK for more than 6 months, but less than 12 months, this absence will normally be permitted if it was for an important reason, such as serious illness, study, pregnancy, childbirth, vocational training or an overseas posting.

What would be an example of “important reason”?

Suppose your absence is because of being ill with Coronavirus and you cannot return to the UK, because you were ill or in quarantine. In that case, such absence will not break your continuous qualifying period.

Alternatively, you can be a student who is studying at the UK University but now is studying online outside the UK because of Covid-19.You will be allowed a single absence for more than 6 months, but no more than 12 months. As the absence is related to your studies, it will not break your continuous qualifying period. However, you need to make sure to return to the UK before reaching 12 months of absence and you are also only allowed one absence over 6 months, not multiple.

In all these cases, you will need to provide a letter with explanations of the reason, dates and details of your illness or quarantine.

Self-isolation or decision to stay away from the UK for your own or family safety reasonsdo not necessarily falls under the above exceptions. It will only be accepted if you are ill or under quarantine conditions because of having caught Coronavirus, when sharing a house with someone ill with Coronavirus, or is required to do so as a result of being in contact with someone who is in a venerable or high-risk category.

You need to bear in mind only one such interruption is allowed. More than one long absence will break your continuous qualifying period, and you will have to restart the 5-year qualifying period when you return to the UK before 31 December 2020.

Absence for more than 12 months

Unless you already have a settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or EU Permanent Residence, any absences from the UK longer than 12 months will always break your continuous qualifying period. So, you will have to restart the 5-year period when you return to the UK by 31 December 2020.

What if you don’t have a status yet and rely on EU Regulations for lawful status?

EU nationals have until 31 June 2021 to apply for their status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Therefore, some people may decide not to apply until later. How does it affect their status in the UK until then?

In order to be lawfully resident in the UK as an EU national beyond the initial three months of residence to the UK upon arrival for the first time, all EU nationals need to exercise Treaty rights in the UK. This means that they need to be here as a worker, self-employed, job seeker, student or self-sufficient with a comprehensive health insurance.

Guidance confirms that any employee on a furlough leave will continue to be treated as a worker in the UK. For this they will need to be both in genuine and effective employment immediately prior to being furloughed, and remain under contract with their employer.

Those, who lost their job or self-employment due to Covid-19 may also retain their worker or self-employed status. They need to provide evidence of loss of employment due to Covid-19 reasons to qualify as a retainer worker.

Self-sufficient people would not normally be allowed to claim benefits in the UK. However, if you have a temporary interruption in availability of funds as a result of coronavirus restrictions and need to rely on benefits in the short term, then this should not directly lead to a refusal of an application for documentation.

All of these would require submission of evidence and documentation from HMRC, DWP or other sources to rely on these exceptions. The lawful residence requirement is necessary for anyone who wants to apply for British citizenship, as they need to show their residence in the last 3/5 years and good character in the last 10 years.

What alternative evidence of identity can I provide?

There are situations when somebody they cannot obtain or produce a valid passport or national identity card as a result of national coronavirus restrictions. In this case, you may be able to provide alternative evidence to prove your identity or be entitled to apply from outside the UK.

For example, you are unable to renew your passport or national identity card because of the closures at your embassy or consulate generate. You may be able to use your expired passport or national identity card as alternative evidence, or an official letter issued by relevant authorities from your home country to confirm your identity.  The Home Office will consider applicants on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, keeping evidence for your application is critical if you wish to reply on the guidance.

Unfortunately, you can’t use an online application form if you are providing alternative evidence of identity. Instead, you must request a paper application form from the Home Office and complete your application using paper forms.

How can I provide further information and evidence if I need to do it?

Before your application is decided, the Home Office may request you to provide further information or documentation for your application. The Home Office will accept evidence to be provided via emails and in digital format.

If you can’t send documents by email, don’t worry – the Home Office still accepts posts, and will give you sufficient time for posting your documents. They will also take into consideration the disruptions to postal services affected by Covid-19 or to ability to send post in the first place due to self-isolation rules.

Need legal advice for your application?

If you have any other UK or EU related immigration questions, please get in touch with UK immigration solicitors on 020 7427 5972 or submit your enquiry HERE.

If you are interested in working and living in Australia, please contact our relevant specialists on www.emigrate-to-australia.co.uk.

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