We have been receiving a large number of calls from European Union nationals concerned about their future status in the United Kingdom, including queries about British citizenship for EU nationals. Since this article was published, settled status has become a mandatory requirements for EU nationals to retain their rights to remain in the UK after Brexit.
It will be interesting to see what the final provisions might be. It could result in huge problems for those working in “low skilled” jobs, those who are married to other EU migrants, and EU nationals as a whole who live in the UK. What visa option would be available to them? Certainly a Tier 2 or Spouse visa would not work.
But what about the other way round? An EU exit could mean needing a visa simply to cross over to France. Let’s face it, applying for visas before travel is not something British citizens find themselves having to do on a regular basis. The UK passport is considered as the most powerful in the world allowing visa-free travel to 173 countries.
British citizenship for EU nationals: Applying for Permanent Residence
As a European citizen, you are deemed to automatically acquire Permanent Residence after completing 5 lawful years in the UK under the European Regulations; the pre-requisite to applying for British Citizenship.
Making an application to certify Permanent Residence can be complex and the number of documents required tends to deter people from submitting an application. An application for Permanent Residence is akin to Indefinite Leave to Remain and costs £65.
This means that there are no restrictions attached to your leave in the UK and you are free to exit and enter as you wish, provided you are not out of the country for more than 2 years at which point Permanent Residence is lost.
However, EU citizens in the UK are now required to register for Settled Status to safeguard their rights to live, work and remain in the UK after Brexit. Permanent residence holder can apply to transfer their status, free of charge. However, if you are looking at British citizenship, it is worth taking advice on the best route for your circumstances.
British citizenship for EU nationals: Naturalisation
Many EU citizens are now considering how to get British Citizenship.
You will, for example, need to hold settled status for at least 12 months before you become eligible to naturalise.
It also remains to be seen how the application process from settled status to citizenship will compare to that of permanent residence (PR) to citizenship, as those with the 12 months settles status minimum qualifying period start to apply. Given the less onerous evidentiary burden to register for settled status than or PR, it is expected that the citizenship application may demand more from settled status applicants to prove their UK residence than for those holding a valid permanent residence card.
The Naturalisation rules are governed by the British Nationality Act 1981; as such, there are no separate rules for EU and non-EU citizens as regards applying to naturalise as a British citizen.
All applicants have to meet the same requirements regardless of their nationality. The Immigration Rules and European Regulations have no bearing on these applications.
If you are an EU citizen and have been living in the UK for 6 or more years you could be eligible to make an application to be naturalised and acquire British Citizenship.
The application for British citizenship is much the same as for non-EU migrants, but in short:
- You must have been in the UK for 6 or more years;
- During your time in the UK, you must have been exercising Treaty Rights e.g. working, self-employed, or a student,for example;
- You must meet the residence requirements which include an assessment of your absences from the UK and where you intend to live after making the application;
- You will need to pass the Life in the UK Test;
- You also need to pass an approved English Language Test – or have an approved degree from /be a national of a majority English speaking country;
- You must meet the “Good Character” guidance, for example no recent or serious criminal convictions, you must not be bankrupt, or associated with those considered to have “bad character”
All of this also applies to family members of European Union nationals. The very essence of their legal entitlement to stay in the UK depends on their EU family member exercising their rights under the European Regulations. You will need to pass the Life in the UK Test, which can only be booked online at least 7 days in advance. It costs £50 and there are around 60 tests centers in the UK. You don’t have to take the test if you are over 65.
Once you’ve met all the requirements for Naturalisation and obtained your naturalisation certificate, you will then be able to make an application for a British passport. You will no longer find yourself having to prove your residence in the UK on a regular basis to the Home Office – a weight off your shoulder at the very least. Dual citizenship (also known as dual nationality) is allowed in the UK. This means you can be a British citizen and also a citizen of other countries. However, many countries don’t accept dual nationality, so you are encouraged to check the law in your country of origin before you apply.
Among all the post-referendum uncertainty, the one thing we can safely say is that certifying your Permanent Residence or obtaining British citizenship is now something to seriously consider if you hope to continue living in the UK.
How we can help
At DavidsonMorris we have the experience to advise you on the most appropriate type of application for your individual circumstances and have the insight to make the application process as smooth as possible.
We have an established reputation for effective and efficient management and processing of citizenship and naturalisation applications. We have a team of professionals who will look after you from the start until you obtain your passport.
This article was updated following the UK referendum and decision to leave Europe.