On 21 January 2019 the Government implemented the ‘test’ phase of the EU Settlement Scheme application process. The scheme is open to EU citizens who are living in the UK (providing they hold a valid passport) and non-EU citizens who have been issued with a residence card or permanent residence card as the family member of an EU national (on the basis of an application made on or after 6 April 2015) to apply for ‘settled’ or ‘pre settled’ status in the UK. EU citizens who have already been issued with a permanent residence card may also apply for settled status by applying to the EU settlement scheme. The process for applications is online and is made available via an app for those who have access to an android mobile phone. If you wish to apply under the test phase the current fee is £65 (if you’re 16 or over) or £32.50 (if you’re under 16), and free to apply if you already hold a permanent residence document. This fee is set to be abolished from 30 March 2019 and the application will become free thereafter.
As things stand the UK will remain a member of the EU until it formally leaves on 29 March 2019. This means that EU citizens and non-EU citizen family members enjoy all the rights and privileges that come with the UK’s membership of the EU. This entitles an EU citizen or the family member of an EU citizen to apply for a permanent residence document (i.e. indefinite stay in the UK), once they have acquired 5 years continuous residence and have done so in accordance with EU treaty rights, i.e. by working or studying etc. Importantly, Home Office guidance states that EU citizens or their family members who wish to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen should apply for a permanent residence card to prove that they hold that status before applying. It is not clear how the same will apply to those who apply under the Settlement Scheme. It is also of importance to note that unlike the Settlement Scheme, permanent residence is acquired by law. This means that it is protected by statutory legislation passed by parliament. A permanent residence document is also legal proof of an EU citizen or family members right to work in the UK.
We therefore advise our clients who are eligible to apply for permanent residence to continue to do so. This is especially relevant in the context of those individuals who wish to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen afterwards (if they can demonstrate that they have been free of immigration restrictions for 12 months). Furthermore, it is unclear how the Home Office will cope with processing applications from millions of EU citizens and their family members and there is likely to be glitches with the new system as it gets up and running.