Is settled status the same as permanent residence?
EU settled status and UK permanent residence are not the same. EU nationals currently in the UK – both with or without a permanent residence card – who are wising to remain lawfully in Britain beyond 30 June 2021 will need to take steps to secure their status.
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 on your eligibility to apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
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 EU member states in which they have legally resided for a continuous 5-year period.
Prior to the UK leaving the EU, it was not a mandatory requirement for qualifying EU citizens to apply for a permanent residence card in the UK to prove their status, but the permanent residence document was needed to apply for British citizenship or for use as documentary evidence with authorities, employers or other administrative formalities.
Now that the UK has left the EU, it is no longer possible to apply for a permanent residence card in the UK.
EU citizens are instead required to make the free application to register for EU settled status.
If you already have a permanent residence document, this will not be valid from 1 July 2021. Again, you will need to apply for settled status to confirm your status.
What is EU settled status?
EU citizens coming to the UK from 1 January 2021 will need to apply to the Home Office for relevant permission (usually a visa) to come to the UK.
EU nationals already in the UK (and their family members) by 31 December 2020 are required to register for settled status by 30 June 2021 to safeguard their indefinite, lawful status in the UK.
EU 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 study in the UK on an indefinite basis. With settled status, you retain full access to healthcare and, where eligible, any public funds including state benefits and pensions.
As such, those with settled status will continue to access to the same rights and benefits they were entitled to under the previous free movement rules. They will also be entitled to leave the UK for up to 5 years without losing their status, and any children born in the UK will automatically be classed as British citizens.
However – EU settled status is not an automatic right. EU citizens will need to apply for, and be granted, EU settled status. From 1 July 2021, EU citizens will be required to provide proof of their settled status, for example to their employer as part of a Right to Work check.
The Government has advised that EU citizens who fail to apply for settled status before the deadline of 30 June 2021 will no longer have the right to remain in the UK lawfully.
How do I qualify for settled status?
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 to apply 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.
What is pre-settled status?
Special provision was made under the EU settlement scheme for EU citizens who have not attained the 5 years continuous residence required for full settled status.
Those who moved to the UK prior to 31 December 2020 but who have not yet at the time of their application lived in the UK for 5 years, will be granted pre-settled status. This will give the successful applicant the right to stay in the UK for a period of 5 years, at which time they can apply for full settled status.
EU citizens with pre-settled status who left the UK in response to the COVID pandemic may find their eligibility under the continuous requirement has been compromised by their absence. Home Office guidance states that an individual with pre settled status who has been absent from the UK for more than six months within any 12-month period of the 5-year qualifying residency will lose their right to apply for full settled status, unless they can prove exceptional circumstances apply. Only absence due to illness with COVID or due to forced quarantine may be considered as an exception to the absence requirement.
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.
Settled status eligibility & absence from the UK due to COVID
In response to the COVID pandemic, many EU citizens took the decision to leave the UK and return to their home country, perhaps to work remotely or due to caring responsibilities.
Recent UK government guidance, however, indicates this period of absence may detrimentally affect the individual’s eligibility to qualify for full settled status.
The continuous residence rules require that if an individual is absent from the UK for more than six months in any 12-month period during their qualifying five-year residency, they no longer qualify for full settled status, unless exceptional circumstances apply.
The issue is whether extended absence from the UK due to the pandemic qualifies as an exceptional circumstance.
Home Office guidance in January 2021 has stated that only in cases where the individual can show their absence was due to having been ill with COVID or due to forced quarantine may be considered as an exception to the absence requirement.
This means EU citizens with pre-settled status who have been out of the UK for more than six months during the pandemic will lose their automatic right to full settled status and to return to the UK to live with lawful indefinite status, unless they can prove exceptional circumstances.
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 register for settled status under the EU settlement scheme or, alternatively, apply to naturalise as a British citizen before 30 June 2021.
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.
Applying for British citizenship
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals over the age of 18 who have held permanent resident status in the UK for at least 12 months, and hold a permanent residence document from the Home Office, may be eligible to apply for British citizenship by way of naturalisation, provided they meet all the eligibility criteria.
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 held settled status for at least 12 months may be eligible to apply for British citizenship.
Settled status holders will need to be aware that settled status in itself may not be proof of past “lawful residence” in the UK – a key requirement for naturalisation.
Under current guidelines, settled status is limited to proof of ‘physical residence’, which is not the same as living in accordance with the EEA Regulations 2016, as is required to qualify for naturalisation.
This technicality may impact the eligibility of settled status holders to make a citizenship application. For example, you may need to wait longer then 12 months with settled status to gather the documentary evidence to prove the qualifying period of lawful residence, or that you have spent the qualifying period as either a job seeker, worker, self-employed, self-sufficient or student, and having comprehensive sickness insurance.
This is a confusing and emerging area of nationality law, and it will be important to take advice on your circumstances as to your eligibility to naturalise and the timing of the application.
Contact us for advice on your circumstances and the application process to naturalise as a British citizen.
Permanent residency v settled status FAQs
Should I apply for settled status if I have permanent residence?
Permanent residence holders have to register under the EU settled status to retain their lawful immigration status in the UK after 30 June 2021.
Is Settled status the same as indefinite leave to remain?
Settled status is the grant of indefinite leave to EU nationals who can evidence continuous UK residence for at least 5 years.
Can I apply for British citizenship with settled status?
British citizenship requirements are extensive and applicants will be required to provide substantial evidence that they meet all of the criteria, including the residency requirements.
Last updated: 10 February 2021