If you have settled or pre settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), it is important to understand how absences from the UK can affect your status and your right to remain in the UK lawfully.
As of 31 March 2023, an estimated 5.6 million Europeans and their family members had secured their residence rights in the UK through the EUSS, with an estimated 3.5 million holding settled status and an estimated 2.1 million holding pre settled status.
The following guide looks at the current position for EU settled status and pre settled status holders in relation to absences from the UK, from what the law says about settled or pre settled status absence from the UK to the impact of losing status under the EUSS.
EU settled status & UK absence rules
The EUSS provided EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK by the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, and their family members, the opportunity to protect their residence in the UK by way of either settled or pre settled status.
For those granted settled status under the scheme, they have the right to live in the UK on a permanent basis, where settled status has been granted to those who have continuously lived in the UK for 5 years. With the grant of settled status, an individual can work freely in the UK, enrol in education or study, access public funds such as benefits and pensions, and access the NHS for free. They are also permitted to travel in and out of the UK.
However, when it comes to settled status absence from UK, for most EEA citizens or family members with settled status who want to live or work overseas for any length of time, they can only spend up to 5 consecutive years outside of the UK, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man under the rules without losing their status under the EUSS.
In contrast, for Swiss citizens and their family members, they can only spend up to 4 years in a row outside the UK and the Islands without losing their EUSS settled status.
Pre settled status & UK absence rules
For those who have applied to the EUSS having not met the 5-year continuous residence requirement, they will have been granted pre settled status. This provides the successful applicant with the right to live in the UK for a further 5 years, at which stage — or at any earlier stage, where the 5 years is counted from the day continuous residence started, not the day that pre settled status was granted — that person can apply for settled status.
The deadline for most people to apply to the EUSS was 30 June 2021, although this deadline does not apply if an individual already has pre settled status and they are applying to switch to settled status. The scheme also remains open to late applications or certain joining family members of relevant EUSS sponsors resident in the UK.
As such, for anyone already with pre settled status or who is likely to obtain pre settled status and has not yet lived in the UK for 5 consecutive years, or for anyone who has met the residence requirement but has not yet applied to switch, the rules relating to absence from the UK are much stricter. When it comes to pre settled status absence from UK, individuals can only spend up to 2 consecutive years outside the UK, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man without losing their status. Importantly, they will also need to maintain their continuous residence if they want to go on to qualify for EUSS settled status.
Does any absence from UK affect settled status?
For anyone with settled status, absence from the UK will not usually affect a person’s right to permanently live in the UK, although settled status 5 years absence is the absolute cut-off point or, alternatively, 4 years absence for Swiss citizens and any family members.
Still, this essentially means that someone with settled status can travel freely in and out of the UK for any purpose. This could include visiting friends and family, taking an extended holiday or even going travelling. It could also include undertaking an overseas work assignment or studying abroad for anything up to 4 or 5 years, depending on nationality.
However, for anyone with settled status travelling outside of the UK, it is important to have acceptable proof of their EUSS status to be able to easily re-enter the country.
Does any absence from UK affect pre settled status?
As for anyone with settled status under the EUSS, those with pre settled status can also travel freely in and out of the UK, provided they are not absent for more than 2 years.
However, they must again have acceptable proof of their EUSS status to be able to easily re-enter the UK, although what evidence an individual should carry with them and what a carrier is likely to accept is not always straightforward. This is because the rules around the right to re-enter the UK can be complex, depending on many different factors, such as an individual’s nationality, whether they were living in the UK before 31 December 2020, and whether or not they applied to the scheme before the 30 June 2021 deadline date.
For EEA and Swiss nationals, they may not necessarily be asked for proof of status under the scheme, provided their passport or national identity card is connected to their EUSS status via that person’s UKVI account and can be scanned to show this. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) is the department of the Home Office dealing with EUSS applications.
Still, even with a linked passport, it is strongly recommended that citizens carry with them evidence of their successful grant of status. This could include a printout of their EUSS decision letter or their online status using the ‘View and Prove’ service at GOV.UK. It is also recommended to generate a share code in advance, selecting “something else” when asked for the reason for sharing their status and carrying this code with them on a piece of paper.
In contrast, for many joining family members with status under the scheme, they should instead apply for an EUSS Biometric Residence Card (BRC) before travelling abroad. The EUSS BRC is a physical card, where visa nationals cannot usually rely on digital proof of status to be able to board a carrier from abroad and travel back to the UK, where they must carry this card with them when they travel. In the event that their BRC is lost, stolen or expires while abroad, they should apply for an EUSS travel permit to get back into the UK. Once they return, they should then apply for a replacement BRC from inside the UK.
A carrier may, at their discretion, accept evidence of settled or pre settled status under the EUSS where this is provided by the passenger via the online ‘View and prove your immigration status’ service, but this is by no means guaranteed. As such, all visa nationals must travel with valid physical proof to facilitate carrier checks and avoid delays.
Ideally, for anyone who has recently applied to the EUSS, they should wait until they have been granted settled or pre settled status before travelling overseas, even if they have a valid pending application and have received a Certificate of Application.
Can you lose settled or pre settled status due to absence?
For anyone with settled or pre settled status under the EUSS, if they spend too much time outside of the UK, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man, they can lose their EUSS status. For example, settled status granted to Swiss citizens and any family members will be lost after a continuous absence of more than 4 years from the UK and Islands, while settled status granted to everyone else will be lost after a continuous absence of more than 5 years.
Additionally, anyone who has pre settled status and leaves the UK for more than 6 months in any 12 month period, this may break the continuous residence requirement needed to switch to settled status. This means that if someone is absent from the UK for more than 6 months in total in any one of the 5 qualifying years required for settled status, they may lose their right to apply, although there are exceptions to this 6-month rule, including:
- one period of up to 12 months for an important reason, such as serious illness, childbirth, studies, vocational training, an overseas work posting or due to coronavirus
- compulsory military service of any length
- time spent overseas as a Crown servant or in the armed forces, or as the family member of a Crown servant or someone in the armed forces
- working in the UK marine area.
It is worth noting that for the purposes of the continuous residence requirement under the EUSS, 6 months actually translates to 180 days, rather than 6 calendar months.
Impact of losing settled or pre settled status
For anyone who has spent too much time outside the UK, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man and has lost their EUSS status as a result, they will usually need to apply for a visa to be able to live and work in the UK, even if their EUSS BRC has not expired. In some cases, if an individual is eligible as a family member of someone from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Iceland, they may be able to re-apply to the EUSS. However, in either scenario, expert advice from an immigration specialist should be sought.
Prior to leaving the UK for prolonged periods, it is always best to try to take steps to minimise any risk of losing the right of residence. For example, for anyone with settled status, they may be eligible to apply for British citizenship once they have had settled status for 12 months, where British citizens can leave the UK for as long as they want without losing their right to return. However, there are also strict continuous residence requirements to naturalise as a British citizen. Equally, for those with pre settled status, where eligible to apply for settled status, they should do so before leaving the UK. In this way, they will be able to reside outside the UK for a period of up to 5 years, rather than just 2 years, without this impacting their right to return to live in the UK afterwards.
It is also worth noting that there are limited circumstances in which someone can obtain settled status with less than 5 years residence. This could include, for example, if a person has to stop working in the UK because of either an accident or illness, known as permanent incapacity, where they have lived continuously in the UK, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man for more than the 2 years immediately beforehand. An individual can also get settled status, for example, if they are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.
What happens when pre settled status expires?
From September 2023, qualifying pre settled status holders will automatically have their status extended by a period of 2 years before it expires if they have not yet obtained settled status.
The Home Office also intends to take steps to automatically convert as many eligible pre settled status holders as possible to settled status, without them needing to make an application, where automated checks will establish their ongoing continuous residence in the UK. However, unless and until settled status has been granted, anyone with pre settled status leaving the UK for more than 2 years may be at risk of losing their residence rights.
EU Settled Status & UK absences FAQs
How long can you stay outside UK with settlement?
If you are a Swiss citizen or family member with settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), you can stay outside the UK for 4 years and, for anyone else with EUSS settled status, the limit is 5 years.
How long can I stay outside of UK without losing pre-settled status?
If you have pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, you cannot leave the UK for more than 2 years. Being outside the UK for more than 6 months in any 12-month period can also impact eligibility for settled status.
How do I calculate days absent from UK?
When switching from pre-settled to settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, you would not generally be allow to have spent more than 180 days in total outside the UK in any 12 month period.
What happens if I stay more than 6 months outside UK?
If you have pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme and you remain outside of the UK for more than 6 months in any 12 month period, this may break the 5-year continuous residence requirement to switch to settled status.
Last updated: August 19 2023