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Settled Status vs Permanent Residence: What Is the Difference?

The following guide looks at the difference between settled status and permanent residence, and the impact of your status as an EU citizen in the UK of applying to naturalise as a British citizen.

Expert legal advice should always be sought in relation to your particular set of circumstances, not least because the details of the EU settlement scheme as set out in this guide may change depending on the circumstances in which the UK leaves the EU.

What is settled status?

Settled status is the official grant of immigration status by the Home Office that will allow you as an EU citizen to continue to live, work and/or study in the UK for as long as you like. This will include full access to healthcare and, where eligible, any public funds including state benefits and pensions.

As such, those with settled status ought to have access to the same rights and benefits they were entitled to under free movement. They will also be entitled to leave the UK for up to 5 years before losing their status, and any children born in the UK will automatically be classed as British citizens.

Settled status is not an automatic right but rather a status that EU citizens will need to apply for and be granted. EU citizens who fail to apply for settled status before the deadline may no longer have a legal right to live in the UK.

How do I qualify for settled status?

Typically, to qualify for settled status under the EU settlement scheme you would need to show that you have lived in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years.

To satisfy the 5-year continuous residence requirement, subject to certain exceptions such as time abroad in the armed forces, you must have lived in the UK for at least 6 months in any 12-month period.

Please note, if you already have permanent residence and apply for settled status, you will not have to prove you have 5 years’ continuous residence.

You have until the 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 in the event of no deal, to apply for under the EU settlement scheme. Your rights will remain unchanged until then, provided that you were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, or the date the UK leaves the EU if there’s no deal.

Those who moved to the UK prior to the applicable deadline date but who have not yet lived in the UK for 5 years should instead be eligible for pre-settled status. This will give the successful applicant the right to stay in the UK for a period of 5 years, during which time they can re-apply for settled status.

What is permanent residence?

EU citizens, as well as EEA and Swiss citizens, including non-EEA family members, acquire an automatic right of permanent residence in host member states in which they have legally resided for a continuous 5-year period.

There is no need for such citizens to apply for permanent residence in the UK, as it is an automatic right. Further, while it is not compulsory to obtain a permanent residence document, this is useful to confirm your status to authorities, employers or other administrative formalities.

As with settled status, the continuous 5-year period is not affected by temporary absences not exceeding 6 months per year, together with other exceptions.

Am I eligible to apply for settled status?

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, or the family member of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, you will be eligible to apply for settled status under the EU settlement scheme. The EEA, ie; the European Economic Area, includes EU countries, in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

It does not matter if you are a non-EEA family member, you can come from anywhere in the world. The following non-EEA family members will be eligible for settled status:

  • Spouses, civil partners and unmarried partners
  • Children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren under 21
  • Children over 21 who are dependent
  • Parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who are dependent
  • Dependent relatives.

Applicants can apply online and will need to prove their identity and continuous 5-year residence in the UK, or less for pre-settled status. Criminal background checks will also be conducted for applicants over 18. The scheme is now open and there is currently no fee to apply.

Do I need to register for settled status if I already have a permanent residence?

To continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021, EU citizens and their family members, including those who have already obtained permanent residence, must either apply for settled status under the EU settlement scheme or, alternatively, apply to naturalise as a British citizen before 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

As previously indicated, if you already have permanent residence and apply for settled status, you will not have to prove you have 5 years’ continuous residence.

Please note, permanent residency documents will become invalid after the application deadline for settled status under the scheme. Please also note that although EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain do not have to apply for settled status under the EU settlement scheme, they are strongly advised to do so to evidence their ongoing right to live and work in the UK.

How do I know if I have valid permanent residence document?

To verify whether you have a valid permanent residence document you will need to look for one of the following:

  • A certificate inside your blue residence documentation booklet, or pink if you are a Swiss national
  • A certificate inside your passport
  • If you are from the EU, EEA or Switzerland your permanent residence document will say “Document Certifying Permanent Residence”
  • If you are not an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, your biometric residence card will say “Permanent Residence Status”.

Please note a “registration certificate” is not a permanent residence document.

Is it better to apply for settled status or British citizenship?

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals over the age of 18 who have had permanent resident status in the UK for at least 12 months, and hold a permanent residence document from the Home Office, will be eligible to apply for British citizenship by way of naturalisation.

For EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, and family members, who have automatically acquired permanent residence but who do not have a valid permanent residence document, they will need to apply for settled status to enable them to make an application for British citizenship by way of naturalisation.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who have had settled status for at least 12 months will also be eligible to apply for British citizenship.

The question remains, therefore, which is the preferred option where you are currently eligible to apply for both settled status ‘and’ British citizenship by way of naturalisation. In other words, should you first apply for settled status with a view to applying for naturalisation after 12 months, or at some point in the future, or, where eligible, whether to apply for naturalisation right now?

Much may depend upon your personal preferences and circumstances, not least whether or not you want to enjoy the same rights as a British national, including the right to vote and obtain a British passport. For many, however, being able to stay in the UK indefinitely enjoying the same rights they are afforded now will suffice.

Contact us for advice on your circumstances and the application process to naturalise as a British citizen.

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