The United Kingdom (UK) will continue to accept late European Union (EU) Settlement Scheme applications from “unaware” EU citizens in the country pre-Brexit.
The rule prevented those who mistakenly applied for permanent residency status after the Brexit referendum from submitting a late EUSS application due to “lack of awareness.”
It also blocked applications from those who erroneously relied on their permanent residency cards to prove their immigration status.
These residency cards were no longer valid after the June 2021 deadline for the EUSS.
The updated guidance, published on 16 January 2024, now allows late EUSS applications from qualified EU citizens who are “unaware” of the scheme.
It states that late EUSS applications from those with permanent residency cards “are reasonable grounds” for the delay.
According to The Guardian, the reversal comes after EU citizens faced devastating consequences.
What is the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme?
The UK’s EU Settlement Scheme helps to implement and uphold the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Withdrawal Agreement safeguards the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.
It also covers those who moved to the UK or any EU member state during the said transition period.
The Agreement states that these individuals are entitled to the same rights as citizens of the country they moved to or reside in.
They have lifelong residency rights and can study, work, and travel freely between the UK and the EU.
Like British citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status under the EUSS are exempted from the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA).
How the EU Settlement Scheme works
The British government launched the EU settlement scheme to document nearly six million EU citizens living in the UK.
The digital-only EUSS does not come with residency documents or cards. It only comes with a digital record of their status.
Due to this, EU citizens with a permanent residence document or EEA biometric residence card still had to apply for the EUSS.
The EUSS grants settled status to applicants who have been living in the UK for five years or more. This gives them the right to remain in the UK indefinitely.
On the other hand, the EUSS grants a pre-settled status to those who have been living in the UK for less than five years.
This allows them to remain in the country for up to five years. After that, they can apply for a settled status.
The EUSS closed in June 2021, but late applications were still considered on reasonable grounds.
Updates to the EUSS scheme
In August 2023, the Home Office removed “lack of awareness” of the settlement scheme as a reasonable ground for late applications.
This caused significant difficulties for EU citizens who applied for permanent residency cards after the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The same goes for those who relied on their cards to prove their immigration status.
In September 2023, the UK government automatically extended the status of pre-settled individuals for two more years.
This ensures that no pre-settled status holder will see their immigration status expire.
In 2024, the Home Office is looking to automatically switch individuals with pre-settled status to settled status after five years.
However, the government still encourages those with pre-settled status to apply for a settled status.
The new guidance update could be clearer
Despite the update on late EUSS applications, the campaign group The3million sees it as only a partial victory,
The3Million is a nonprofit organization for and of the EU, European Economic Area (EEA), and Swiss citizens in the UK.
It was established after the 2016 referendum to protect the rights of non-British citizens who have made the UK their home.
According to the group, the updated guidance could be more precise.
The guidance does not directly state that late EUSS applications from EU citizens with permanent residency cards are acceptable.
Instead, the Home Office only provides a convoluted example for the caseworkers to base their decisions on.
“We’re disappointed that the Home Office still does not accept that having an EEA permanent residence card in itself is sufficient evidence for reasonable grounds for applying late,” said the3milllion interim co-chief executive Andreea Dumitrache.
She added, “It also expects people to beg, bend their knee, and show remorse for not knowing.”
Dumitrache further states that many others were not granted permanent residency cards but may still have rights under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.