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Q and A: What is the latest update to the EU Settlement Scheme and how does it work?

The update gives people with pre-settled status extra time to achieve settled status  (PA Wire)
The update gives people with pre-settled status extra time to achieve settled status (PA Wire)

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was introduced as a result of Brexit and required the millions of EU citizens living in the UK to apply for settled status if they wanted to stay.

Under the immigration scheme, people from the EU, European Economic Areas (EEA) and Switzerland who lived in the UK at the end of 2020 could obtain “settled” or “pre-settled” status.

According to the latest government records, around 5.6 million Europeans and their family have secured rights through the EUSS. As of March 2023, around 2.1 million people held pre-settled status, and an estimated 3.5 million held settled status.

The deadline for applying for the EUSS passed in June 2021. However, there have recently been some important updates to immigration rules that EU citizens in the UK should know about.

So let’s take a look at everything you need to know about the EU Settlement Scheme.

What is the EUSS?

EU citizens and their families were asked to apply to the Home Office scheme to continue living and working in the UK after the Brexit transition period and freedom of movement ended.

This also applied to people from the EEA countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as well as Switzerland. Family members include non-EU nationals from those countries who are living with them in the UK.

Under this scheme, approved applicants were provided with pre-settled or settled residency and were given the right to live, work, study and claim benefits within the UK. Once granted status, applicants can use the NHS, study and access public funds and benefits, as well as travel in and out of the country easily.

People from other EU countries living and working in the UK that didn’t successfully apply for the scheme were not legally allowed to stay in Britain. In order to attain EUSS, people had to first prove their identity, show they lived in the UK and declare any criminal convictions.

What’s the difference between settled status and pre-settled status?

People will usually get settled status if they have lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period. During those five years, they need to have spent at least six months of each year in the UK.

Settled status would also usually apply to those who have started living in the UK by December 31, 2020. Those who are granted settled status will only need to apply to the scheme once and will be granted settled status assuming they have no criminal convictions or there is no security reason why they can’t stay in the UK.

Those who have lived in the UK for under five years will be assigned pre-settled status, which means they can stay in the UK for five years. After that point, they can claim settled status.

What’s the latest government update for people with pre-settled status?

In July 2023, the Home Office published an update on the EUSS. According to the new rules, those that hold pre-settled status but are approaching the end of the five-year time frame will have that status automatically extended by two years if they’ve not attained settled status. This ensures people with pre-settled status don’t lose their immigration rights.

This will happen automatically, so people don’t need to contact the Home Office. Instead, people will receive a notification when this has been updated in their records.

Switching from pre-settled status to settled status

The Home Office is also making changes to the way it approves the switch to settled status.

In 2024, the government plans to automatically switch eligible pre-settled status holders over to settled status. This will be done without needing an application. Further updates regarding this will be released closer to the time.

However, those holding pre-settled status who have been in the UK continuously for at least five years can still apply for settled status ahead of time. Instead of waiting for automated updates, people can submit a free application here.

When can I apply for British citizenship?

As well as pre-settled and settled status, you might also have the option to apply for British citizenship.

After receiving settled status, people will usually need to live in the UK for a further 12 months before getting their British citizenship.

To apply for citizenship with settled status you must usually have lived in the UK for 12 months after getting it.

Can you submit a late application to the EUSS?

People who have not applied for the EUSS effectively lose their lawful immigration status, which could prevent them from getting a new job or moving house.

Although the application deadline passed in 2021, there are still opportunities to apply for pre-settled or settled status under the scheme. Late applications can take place years afterward. For example, if a child discovers later in life that he or she is undocumented.

Until this point, EUSS applications have been taken into consideration as long as there were “reasonable grounds”. Under the recent Home Office updates, changes are also being made to the way reasonable grounds for late applications to the scheme are considered.

However, this doesn’t mean that late applications won’t be considered. In the latest Home Office update, Lord Murray, a junior minister, suggested that automation processes and the two-year extension will free up staff to process legitimate late applicants.

“The measures we’ve announced today will also enable us to continue robustly tackling spurious EUSS applications, freeing up resource for legitimate late applicants and status-holders, and delivering for the UK public,” Murray said in the update.

What happens if an application is rejected?

The Home Office has said that each case will be considered individually but those with a history of persistent, serious offending may be subject to deportation.

The government has said that if an application is rejected, the applicant has 28 days from the date of its decision to appeal if eligible to do so.