Following the decision of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the EU, the Home Office introduced the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on 30 March 2019, to allow EEA nationals and their family members living in the UK to apply for UK immigration status. Those who had already lived in the UK for 5 continuous years were granted Settled Status, whilst those who had lived in the UK for less than 5 years were granted Pre-Settled Status (valid for 5 years). It was expected that those who were granted Pre-Settled Status could then apply for Settled Status, once they had completed a period of 5-years’ continuous residence in the UK.
Importantly, the Immigration Rules did not previously allow for Pre-Settled Status to be extended. It meant that where a Pre-Settled Status holder did not meet the requirements for Settled Status (the continuous residence requirement for Settled Status dictates that the applicant should not have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 months during the 5-year qualifying period), they would either need to switch into a different immigration category (for example, Skilled Worker visa) or leave the UK prior to the expiry of their Pre-Settled Status. This included, for example, those who had been absent from the UK longer than permitted during the 5-year qualifying period. That appeared to affect especially EU citizens who had lived in the UK but left during Covid-19 to be with their families and loved ones. Some of the EU citizens were not allowed to return to the UK because of the restrictions or vaccination requirements.
However, earlier this month, the Government announced significant changes to the way it administers the EUSS in the wake of recent legal challenges. New Immigration Rules, laid in Parliament on the 17th of July, confirmed that from September 2023, people with pre-settled status under the EUSS will automatically have their status extended by 2 years before it expires if they have not obtained settled status. The process will be automated by the Home Office and reflected in the person’s digital status. They will be notified of the extension directly. This will ensure that nobody loses their immigration status if they do not apply to switch from pre-settled to settled status. The Home Office also intends to take steps to automatically convert as many eligible pre-settled status holders as possible to settled status once they are eligible for it, without them needing to make an application. During 2024, automated checks of pre-settled status will establish their ongoing continuous residence in the UK. Safeguards will be in place to ensure that settled status is not wrongly granted.
We expect the Home Office to publish further guidance in September 2023. Be sure to follow our blogs for further updates. Please contact us if you have any questions, your circumstances might be unique, and we are here to advise you.