Is settled status the same as permanent residence?
Under the UK’s Brexit withdrawal arrangements, EU nationals residing in the UK by 31 December 2o20 – both with or without a permanent residence card – had until 30 June 2021 to secure their lawful status in the UK.
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?
UK permanent residence status was an immigration status open to EU citizens, as well as EEA and Swiss citizens and non-EEA family members, which allowed the holder indefinite permission to live and remain in the UK free from immigration control. Permanent residence could be proven by applying for a permanent residence card which could then be used by the EU citizen to establish the residence requirement when applying for British citizenship.
Prior to the UK’s exit from the European Union, EU citizens, as well as EEA and Swiss citizens, including non-EEA family members, acquired an automatic right of permanent residence in host EU member states in which they had legally resided for a continuous 5-year period.
Under the previous rules, while it was not a mandatory requirement for qualifying EU citizens to apply for a permanent residence card in the UK to prove their status, the permanent residence document was needed to apply for British citizenship or for use as documentary evidence with authorities, employers or other administrative formalities.
What is a permanent residence card?
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 already resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 were required to secure their lawful status under the EU settlement scheme by making their Home Office application by 30 June 2021.
Permanent residence cards did not transfer automatically to settled status. Individuals who already held a permanent residence card were required to apply to transfer their status to the new EU settlement scheme, free of charge. UK permanent residence documents became invalid from 1 July 2021.
What is EU settled status?
Following the end of EU freedom of movement and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system, new rules were introduced that applied to EU citizens who were already living in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period.
EU citizens that came to the UK after 1 January 2021 are excluded from the EU settlement scheme and instead are required to apply to the UK Home Office for the relevant permission (usually a visa) to come to the UK.
EU nationals already in the UK (and their family members) by 31 December 2020 were 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 allows 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 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 had to apply for, and be granted, EU settled status.
Since 1 July 2021, EU citizens have been required to provide proof of their settled status, for example to their employer as part of a Right to Work check.
EU citizens who failed 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 does settled status differ from indefinite leave to remain?
If you have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), you are settled in the UK and can remain here on a permanent basis. ILR is available to EU and non-EU nationals who have resided in the UK for a sufficient period of time on an eligible visa. When applying for immigration permission to enter the United Kingdom, it is crucial to be aware that not all visas provide a pathway to ILR. For instance, a visit visa does not lead to settlement, while the Skilled Worker visa does.
With ILR, you are permitted to:
- Work in the United Kingdom in any enterprise, occupation, or profession, including self-employment
- Study in Britain
- Vote in Britain
- Access the NHS for free
- Access government benefits and other services
- Unrestricted travel to and from the United Kingdom
- Upon receiving ILR, you will be eligible to apply for British citizenship 12 months later.
While your right to remain in the United Kingdom is permanent, it will expire if you spend more than two years abroad. It may also be taken away (revoked) if you are deported, for example, for a serious criminal conviction.
Not only must you have lived in the United Kingdom on a qualifying visa for the required amount of time (typically 5 years, but certain visa types allow this to be accomplished in 2 or 3 years), but this must also be continuous. This means you cannot have spent more than 180 days outside of the United Kingdom in any 12-month period.
EU citizens with Indefinite Leave to Remain were not required to apply for settled status to remain in the United Kingdom after the Brexit transition period. However, this option was worth consideration, as settled status holders are permitted to spend more time outside of the United Kingdom without losing their status.
EU citizens who migrated to the United Kingdom after 31 December 2020 are not eligible for Settled Status, but may be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years of continuous residence, or less, depending on the type of visa held.
The main differences between settled status and ILR are in relation to:
- Who is eligible: while ILR is open to EU and non-EU nationals who had held a qualifying visa and resided in the UK for a qualifying period, settled status was limited to EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals who had been living in the UK before the end of 2020.
- Application process: the settlement scheme application was relatively straightforward while ILR applications remain complex and document-heavy.
- Application fee: ILR applications cost £2,389 while settlement scheme applications were free.
- Absence before losing status: ILR holders lose their status after two years out of the UK, while settled status holders have five years.
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.
Those who already held permanent residence status did not have to prove 5 years’ continuous residence when applying for settled status.
What is pre-settled status?
Special provision was made under the EU settlement scheme for EU citizens who had 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 had not yet at the time of their application lived in the UK for 5 years, were typically granted pre-settled status. This gave the applicant the right to stay in the UK for a period of 5 years, at which time they were required to apply for full settled status.
However, a court ruling in December 2022 found the Home Office’s position on pre-settled status to be unlawful.
Under the scheme’s initial rules, anyone granted pre settled status under the EUSS would be allowed to stay in the UK for an additional 5 years before needing to re-apply for pre settled status or upgrade to settled status before their current status expired.
However, if a person failed to make a subsequent application for leave prior to expiry of their pre settled status, they would automatically lose their right to work, study and rent a property in the UK, and to access benefits and services. They would also be liable to removal from the UK on the basis that they would no longer be classed as lawfully present.
In a recent High Court ruling in the case of The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens Rights Agreements (IMA) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department , the position has significantly changed. This is because the judge held that citizens with pre settled status under the EUSS will no longer be required to make a second application under the scheme or face losing their rights.
In allowing the IMA’s application for judicial review, the court agreed that it was unlawful for citizens to lose their lawful status, along with all the rights which accompany it, under Part 2 of the Withdrawal Agreement — as well as the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement and Swiss Citizens Rights Agreement — if they failed to apply for settled status, or re-apply for pre settled status, prior to the expiry of their existing status.
The outcome of this recent ruling is therefore essentially twofold:
- a person with pre settled status under the EUSS does not lose their residence rights if they fail to make a second application prior to the 5-year expiry date of that permission, and
- a person with pre settled status who acquires a right of permanent residence after 5 years of continuous residence in the UK will not lose this if they fail to make an application to the EUSS for settled status.
Since the High Court’s judgment was handed down, the Home Office has also decided that it will not challenge this decision by way of an appeal, providing much-needed clarity for more than 2 million citizens in advance of the expiry of their pre settled status. Still, until the new arrangements are put in place under the EUSS, and revised Home Office guidance has been issued, citizens with pre settled status are still being encouraged to apply for settled status under the scheme as soon as they become eligible for it. This is because this remains the most straightforward way of evidencing lawful permanent residence rights.
The administrative changes to the EUSS, together with revised guidance, are expected prior to August 2023, which is when the earliest grants of pre settled status are due to expire.
Am I eligible to apply for settled status?
Settled status was open to EU, EEA or Swiss citizens, or the family members of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen. The EEA, ie; the European Economic Area, includes EU countries, in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
It did not matter if you are a non-EEA family member, you could come from anywhere in the world. The following non-EEA family members would have been 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 applied online and were required to prove their identity and continuous 5-year residence in the UK, or less for pre-settled status. Criminal background checks were also conducted for applicants over 18.
Applications were free.
It took an average of five business days to process a complete application if no additional information was required, but in some cases up to a month. In other cases, it took longer than a month, such as if additional information was required or if the application was submitted by mail.
After submitting a valid application, applicants will receive a Certificate of Application confirming their eligibility to live, work, study, and use the NHS in the United Kingdom while their application is unresolved. This is accessible online, and it can be used to prove immigration status in the United Kingdom.
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. However, this period of absence could detrimentally affect the individual’s eligibility to qualify for full settled status.
The continuous residence rules required that if an individual was absent from the UK for more than six months in any 12-month period during their qualifying five-year residency, they no longer qualified for full settled status, unless exceptional circumstances applied.
The issue was whether any extended absence from the UK due to the pandemic qualified as an exceptional circumstance.
Home Office guidance in January 2021 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 meant EU citizens with pre-settled status who had been out of the UK for more than six months during the pandemic lost their automatic right to full settled status and to return to the UK to live with lawful indefinite status, unless they could 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 had already obtained permanent residence, must either have registered for settled status under the EU settlement scheme or, alternatively, applied to naturalise as a British citizen before 30 June 2021.
Those with a permanent residence card did not have to prove 5 years’ continuous residence when applying for settled status.
Prior to the change in rules in June 2021, valid permanent residence documents included:
- 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”.
A “registration certificate” was not a permanent residence document.
UK permanent residency documents became 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, it was advisable to do so to evidence their ongoing right to live and work in the UK.
Applying for British citizenship
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals over the age of 18 who had held permanent resident status in the UK for at least 12 months, and held a permanent residence document from the Home Office, may have been eligible to apply for British citizenship by way of naturalisation, provided they met 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.
Requirements when applying for EU settled status
The following are the primary considerations when applying for settled status under the current regulations:
The most essential requirement is five years of continuous residence in the United Kingdom that has not been interrupted by absences of more than six months in any 12-month period. There are exceptions to this general norm. If an applicant has been outside the United Kingdom for two years during the preceding five-year period, their pre-settled status will have lapsed and they will not be eligible to apply for settled status under UK law.
The five-year period is considered to have commenced:
- For EU nationals: the date their continuous residence in the United Kingdom began (which must be before December 31, 2020, and not the date they were granted pre-settled status).
- For close family members (i.e., partners, dependent parents/grandparents, or children): either the day they arrived in the United Kingdom or the day they became a member of the family, whichever occurred later.
- For extended family members (the date on which they received a family permit under the EUSS or an EEA residence certificate under the EEA Regulations of 2016).
No intervening event has taken place:
Applicants must demonstrate that no’supervening event’ has occurred since the end of their most recent five-year qualifying period. This refers to absences from the United Kingdom for more than five consecutive years since they last completed a continuous qualifying period of five years or have been subject to an exclusion, removal, or deportation order (unless it has been revoked/set aside).
There are both mandatory and discretionary refusal grounds. There will be a search of criminality and security databases in the United Kingdom and abroad. Applicants deemed to be persistent or severe criminals, or those who pose a security risk, will be denied. There will be a distinction between the treatment of crimes perpetrated before December 31, 2020, and those committed afterward. Those convicted after this date will be dealt more harshly in accordance with the current domestic deportation law in the United Kingdom.
Applicants had to provide identification, typically valid ID/BRP. If their pre-settled status was based on a familial relationship, they were also be required to provide evidence of that relationship. In certain circumstances, alternative evidence may have been acknowledged in lieu of an individual’s lack of identification documents.
Applicants may have also been required to provide proof of continuous residency. Checks were performed automatically with HMRC or DWP, and where government data was missing, applicants were given the option to submit additional proof of residence.
What if you’re ineligible for settled status?
Applicants who were ineligible for settled status because they had spent more than six months outside the UK in any 12-month period were able to reapply for pre-settled status if their absence occurred before 31 December 2020, and they returned to the UK by that date.
Following a high profile court decision at the end of 2022, the Home Office is expected to publish revised guidance for pre-settled status holders, advising that it will no longer be necessary to reapply under the settlement scheme after their five years of lawful residence with pre-settled status. Until this guidance is released, the rules remain that pre-settled status holders must apply for full settled status to retain lawful status.
If you were not resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, you would not qualify under the EU settlement scheme and your options to come to the UK or to settle here would be determined by your eligibility under the UK immigration rules.
Non-UK residents and those without settled status must apply for permission to come to the UK to work or to live. This is usually in the form of a visa. There are many different types of visa, including sponsored and unsponsored work visas; temporary work visas; family-based visas; and student visas.
You will need to determine which category you would be eligible for, depending on your circumstances.
For example, if you have been offered a skilled job and sponsorship by an authorised UK employer, you may be able to come to the UK under the Skilled Worker visa. Or if you are married to a British citizen or someone with UK settled status, you may be eligible for a spouse or partner visa.
To settle in the UK on a permanent basis, you will usually need to show you have the qualifying period of lawful UK residence with lawful status under a qualifying UK immigration route. For example, a visitor visa does not offer a path to UK settlement, but after five years in the UK under the Skilled Worker visa, you can become eligible for UK ILR.
Taking advice on your specific circumstances can help to determine your options and to understand the evidential requirements of any future settlement application.
Permanent residency v settled status FAQs
Should I apply for settled status if I have permanent residence?
Permanent residence holders had until 30 June 2021 to register under the EU settlement scheme to retain their lawful immigration status in the UK.
Is Settled status the same as indefinite leave to remain?
Settled status is the grant of indefinite leave to EU nationals who could evidence continuous UK residence for at least 5 years.
Can I apply for British citizenship with settled status?
You can apply for British citizenship with settled status, provided you can prove you meet the eligibility requirements.
Last updated: 11 March 2023