EU citizens moving to the UK

To remain legally in the UK you need to exercise your EU treaty rights. This requires you to be a student, working or otherwise self-sufficient.

Examples of potential issues are:

  • An EU woman who is on maternity leave (i.e. not working) and does not return to work
  • An EU national is not in employment or is looking for work

On 27 October 2015, new regulations were passed to prevent EU nationals applying for British nationality if they do not first hold permanent residency.

After a period of five continuous years of residency in the UK, you can apply for your permanent residence card (as long as you meet the set of criteria). You can then naturalise as a British citizen after a further 12 months.

Partners of EU citizens

Partners and dependants of EU citizens in the UK are not required to apply for a “family of a settled person” visa - commonly referred to as a UK spouse visa / UK dependant visa. An EU national can bring their spouse or partner to the UK on a six-month EEA Family Permit. The EEA family permit will allow you quick and easy access to the UK if you are travelling to join your EEA national partner or family member.

General permit criteria:

  • You must be from outside the EEA
  • You must be a family or "extended" family member of an EEA national

As a non-EEA national applying for an EEA family permit, you will only be able to apply if the EEA citizen you are joining in the UK is:

  • Already living in the UK
  • Travelling with you to the UK within the next six months

If the EEA citizen you are joining has been in the UK for over three months, then he or she will need to be a “qualified person”. This means they are working, studying, self-sufficient or looking for work in the UK, or hold permanent right of residence.

UK residence card for EU citizens

Once you have been given permission to join your partner in the UK, you can apply for a residence card. It will make travelling abroad much easier and will show potential employers that you are able to work in the UK.

Visas are still available for parents wanting to join their children, although this is usually only possible when the parent is financially dependent on the child in the UK (for European passport holders) or when a parent is unable to function in their home country due to illness or disability (British passport holders).

Specialist immigration advice and assistance.

Apply for an EU residence card

Also known as a UK residence card, the EU residence card allows EU nationals, and partners and family members of EU nationals, to live and work in the UK for up to five years. After holding this card for five years you can apply for permanent residence, which will allow you to live in the UK practically without any restrictions.

The benefits

There are many benefits to holding an EU residence card. Apart from being able to live and work in the UK freely for five years, your card will help you:

  • Re-enter the UK quickly and easily if you travel abroad
  • Show employers you are allowed to work in the UK

Who can apply?

You can apply for an EU residence card if you’re an EU national, or are from outside the European Union (EU) and are related to an EU national in one of the following ways:

  • You are their direct family member
  • You are their extended family member
  • You are their partner

Who qualifies as a direct family member?

Direct family members are defined as:

  • Spouses or civil partners
  • Children or grandchildren (or a partner’s)
  • Dependent parents or grandparents (or a partner’s)

Who qualifies as an extended family member?

Extended family members are defined as:

  • Unmarried partners (in a lasting relationship)
  • Brothers or sisters
  • Aunts or uncles
  • Nephews or nieces
  • Cousins
  • Grandchildren

If you’re an extended family member, one of the following must also be true in order for you to apply for an EU residence card:

  1. Before coming to the UK, you must have been dependent on the EU national, or were a member of the EU national’s household, and you’re still dependent on them or a member of their household.
  2. You have serious health concerns that need the personal care of the EU national.

Please note: Your application for an EU residence card is considered based on your personal circumstances. You may not be approved even if you appear to meet all the criteria. It is therefore vitally important that your case is presented correctly and your application contains all the relevant documentation and motivations.

How to renew your EU residence card

You will need to reapply for your residence card before it expires. The same applies if the card is lost, stolen or damaged. You will also need to apply for a new residence card should the passport containing your old residence card expire.

Please note: If you don’t yet have a new card for your new passport, you’ll need to carry both your expired passport and your new passport when you travel.

Specialist immigration advice and assistance.

The status of European nationals in the UK following the vote by the UK to leave the European Union

(European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 as amended. This piece of UK legislation implemented Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the European Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states.

The UK regulations identify which European citizens have a right of residence in the UK (with some close family members – spouse, parents, children etc.) and authorise the issue of residence documentation to confirm the subject’s status. The regulations go on to identify those who have a permanent right of residence and again the documents such persons can be issued.


The documents presently issued by the Home Office are as follows:

  1. A registration certificate

    This document is issued to European citizens who are qualified persons under the regulations. Qualified persons are generally those who are workers, students or self-sufficient persons. The latter two categories require the European citizen to show that he/she has private medical insurance and so traditionally have not been popular to apply for. Registration certificates are usually issued for five years at a time.

  2. A residence card

    These documents are issued to the family members of European citizens who are not European citizens themselves. For example, a Russian citizen (non-EU citizen) married to a Polish citizen could acquire such a card. Again, the document is issued for a period of five years.

  3. A permanent residence card

    These documents are issued when the European citizen has resided in the UK for five years or more and is able to show that they have been a qualified person (or family member of such a person) for the full five-year period. For example, a Polish citizen who has worked continuously for five years in the UK would be entitled to a permanent residence card. It should be noted that it is not possible for a European citizen to apply for British citizenship until the permanent resident's card has been acquired.


The effect of Brexit in terms of UK immigration

The results of the referendum showed that the UK will likely leave the European Union. There is a degree of uncertainty about what changes will happen and how quickly any changes will take effect. Our view remains however that it is highly unlikely that European workers already established in the UK will be required to leave.

However, EU citizens in the UK presently enjoy protection on several issues including the cost of residence documents. An Australian applying for permanent residence presently must pay £2,297 for the visa, whereas a European citizen must pay just £65.

It is therefore our opinion that a consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU will be that in time European citizens will have to pay the same as all other overseas nationals in due course for any documents required. It is also likely that modifications will be made to the law to require UK employers to examine any new residence documents before offering employment to ensure that European citizens apply for the right papers.

It is also our opinion that residence documents issued under the existing arrangements to European citizens will continue to be valid in the UK. Attempting to cancel documents and remove rights already confirmed by the issue of a residence document (or visas in other circumstances) is likely to be fraught with legal difficulties. Those with residence documentation already issued are likely to have a legitimate expectation that they will be permitted to stay in the UK and qualify for the permanent right of residence.

This issue last arose in the UK with a Judicial Review surrounding a change in the immigration rules imposing stricter requirements on those holding existing visas issued under previous rules. The UK government failed ultimately in imposing the stricter rules (decision of the High Court of 8 April 2008, HSMP Forum 2009]0 EWHC 711 (Admin).

Under the existing EU immigration arrangements, it is also possible for European citizens to invite family members to join them in the UK. The same privileges are not afforded to non-European citizens without other strict criteria being met such as showing specific, quite high income. In the case of parents, the non-EU national must show that the parent is either ill or disabled to a degree that the parent is incapable of looking after his/herself and no local care exists. A further consequence of the UK exit from the EU must therefore ultimately be that the immigration advantages enjoyed by European citizens and their family members over and above those afforded to British citizens must cease in due course.

Ultimately, our view is that those European citizens who apply for EU residence documents from the Home Office before any change in law takes place will probably also be unaffected by any changes if they were established in the UK as qualified persons before 24 June 2016. The position for those who arrive in the UK after 24 June 2016 is uncertain.

Those who do come into the UK now exercising rights under the existing treaties will find it difficult to claim that they had an expectation to be able to settle in the UK in the long-term – such persons could therefore be affected by future changes. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the existing free movement rights for European citizens could be incorporated (probably to a lesser degree) into any new UK legislation passed or treaty negotiated and so the ability of some European citizens to come to the UK may be unaffected.

Specialist immigration advice and assistance.

Children born in the UK to European nationals

From 1 January 1983, children born in the UK are not automatically British citizens and the status of the parent must be considered. Where the parents are European citizens, the rules have changed no less than three times in the last 15 years and so children born at different times will have different rights to British citizenship.

At one time, children born in the UK to European citizen parents acquired British citizenship simply where the parent was working at the time and without other residence documentation. A degree of care should therefore be exercised before attempting application for residence documents for children born in the UK because that child could be British already and could apply for a British passport instead.

The rights of children born in the UK to European citizen parents will be unaffected until any change in the law takes place. Equally, we can be certain when a change does take place, as changes to British nationality law cannot be made retroactive, the rights of children born in the UK up to any change will be unaffected.

Steps you and your family should take as EU citizens in the UK

  1. It would be prudent for all European citizens and their family members in the UK (whether established before 23 April 2016 or after) to apply for residence documentation from the UK. Applying for these documents is likely to give some security in terms of ongoing stay in the UK and will prevent the need for costly applications in the future.

  2. Enquiries should be made for children born in the UK to European citizens as to whether they can acquire British citizenship.

  3. Where a European citizen resident in the UK wishes to sponsor a family member to join them in the UK, the applications should be lodged sooner rather than later.

  4. We cannot be certain whether European citizens will continue to enjoy any advantages over the citizens of other countries in the future. This will depend on the detail of any future UK immigration legislation and the negotiation of trade deals with the EU when existing arrangements cease to have effect. However, given that the main thrust of the campaign for the UK to leave the EU was based on immigration and the desire for the UK to stop large numbers of European citizens settling in the UK for economic reasons, it seems very unlikely that there will be no tightening of immigration control for European citizens. Only one certainty exists in immigration terms now and that is simply that European citizens living outside the UK presently who meet the requirements of the existing UK domestic immigration rules (work permits, investment, business study, etc.) can be assured of entry to the UK in the future.

No one can predict future world events, and ten years ago, we would not have envisaged any possible UK exit from the EU. However, one thing that we can all draw from this is that where migration is concerned, any citizen from any country (whether European or not) who has moved to the UK should acquire British citizenship at the earliest opportunity. This is the only way to guarantee absolute security of residence in the UK for the future.

Sable International offer a full representation service for all EU citizens in the UK who which to secure residence documents or assess eligibility to British citizenship.

Specialist immigration advice and assistance.

Irish citizens in the UK

If you are from Ireland and want to live and work in the UK, you do not require a UK visa in order to do so. Irish citizens are afforded a special status in UK immigration and British nationality law that pre-dates EU law. Irish citizens can travel freely into and out of the UK without restriction.

Irish citizens are:

  • Not required to exercise EU treaty rights (to be a student, work or be self-sufficient)
  • Considered “settled” upon entry in the UK
  • Not required to obtain a residence card before qualifying for naturalisation

After five years of continuous residence in the UK, and if you meet the other set criteria (including the good character requirement), an Irish citizen can apply for naturalisation as a British citizen. Both Ireland and the UK allow dual nationality.

More on Irish citizens moving to the UK.

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