COVID-19 absences and EU Settlement Scheme
This article discusses how applications to the EU Settlement Scheme (the Scheme) may have been impacted by COVID-19 ahead of the deadline on 30 June 2021.
What is the EU Settlement Scheme?
The Scheme is primarily for people who are EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members. In applying to the scheme, the applicants’ rights are protected and allows them to remain in the UK. Prior to Brexit, people from EU member states had freedom of movement between other member states. This Scheme was introduced to allow those living in the UK to continue to live, work and study in the UK all whilst gaining access to public funds and the NHS. Further information on the scheme, how to apply and status achieved.
Impacts from COVID-19
As a part of the application process, applicants will need to verify their ID and biometrics. This is possible via a document checking application or applicants are able to submit their original documentation by post. Any applications from non-EU nationals may attend a UK Visas and Citizenship Service centre in person. Many visa centres are still closed or offer reduced services due to COVID-19 measures, so appointments may be difficult to obtain. Where possible EU nationals must use the online APP facilities.
Many countries are experiencing delays in issuing passports or other forms of national identity documents due to the pandemic.
Alternatives to providing a passport or national identity document
The government has published guidance stating that applicants may use alternative evidence of identity and nationality if they are unable to obtain a passport or national identity card due to reasons outside of the applicant’s control or extenuating circumstances relating to COVID-19. If an applicant is unable to travel to an embassy to finalise an application for a passport or national identity document, this would ordinarily cause delays in an application to the Scheme.
Applicants may provide alternative evidence of identity and nationality provided they are able to demonstrate that they are experiencing difficulties producing the required documents for their application due to COVID-19. The applicants may provide documents previously issued by the Home Office or expired passports or national identity documents or any official document issued by authorities in the applicant’s country of origin which confirm their identity and nationality.
If an applicant chooses to apply with alternative evidence of identity and nationality, they will need to submit a paper application which can be requested from the EU Settlement Resolution Centre. The applicant must provide a clear reason as to why they require a paper application.
Continuous qualifying period
COVID-19 has caused many countries to place travel restrictions in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Applicants working towards their 5-year qualifying period for settlement status may be concerned that their continuous qualifying period may have been affected by absences from the UK caused by COVID-19.
Depending on time away from the UK, it may be that the 5-year continuous period is not affected. If the applicant has been away from the UK for no more than 6 months in any 12-month period, the continuous qualifying period will not have been interrupted. This is the general rule in place regardless of whether the reason is attributable to COVID-19 and no additional evidence will be required. If the applicant has been away from the UK for a period of more than 6 months but no more than 12 months as a result of catching COVID-19 and the applicant was unable to return to the UK in time due to being ill, this absence will not break the continuous period. The Scheme permits applicants to be absent from the UK for a period of up to 12 months on account of an extenuating circumstance, including being ill with COVID-19.
It must be noted that self-isolating will only be considered a substantive reason if the applicant had COVID-19 themselves were living with someone who had tested positive or were required to self-isolate due to being a vulnerable person or in regular contact with a vulnerable person.
To allow for the excessive absences to be ‘written off’, the applicant must provide a supporting letter outlining all the details surrounding the prevention of travel and return to the UK including specific dates.
Applicants are only permitted one absence exceeding 6 months but not exceeding 12 months during any 5-year continuous period and so in instances where the applicant has more than a single case, they will need to restart their 5-year qualifying period.
If you require any advice on the above, get in touch with our Immigration team who will be able to assist.