Although the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the post-Brexit transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020, certain aspects of EU free movement law continue to apply into 2021 — but not for much longer. Old EU residence documents such as permanent residence cards, UK residence cards and derivative residence cards continue to be valid only until 30 June 2021, when this “grace period” comes to an end.
These documents have effectively been replaced by the newer pre-settled status and settled status, although these are not granted automatically and anyone who only has an old EU residence document should apply for a new status by 30 June.
Expiry of EU residence documents
Under EU free movement law, citizens of European Economic Area countries and their family members could apply for permanent residence documents if they had been living in the UK for at least five years, and non-EEA family members specifically could apply for UK residence cards and derivative residence cards if they were living in the UK for less than five years. These documents are evidence that someone is residing in the UK lawfully under the EEA Regulations 2016.
As EU residence documents are issued in accordance with the EEA Regulations, they will no longer be valid when free movement law truly ends on 30 June 2021. After this date, holders of these documents will essentially be living in the UK unlawfully. This is due to the Citizens’ Rights Regulations 2020 and the Immigration Act 2020 which bring EU free movement law to an end in the UK and repeal the EEA Regulations.
What if I want to stay in the UK?
Holders of EU residence documents who wish to remain in the UK should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to regularise their stay before 30 June 2021. Those who already have a permanent residence document can essentially swap it for full settled status. Residence card and derivative residence card holders will also be able to apply for settled status if they have been living in the UK for at least five years, and for pre-settled status if they have not yet reached five years’ residence.
The deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme for those living in the UK before 31 December 2020 is 30 June 2021. If you intend to remain in the UK, you should apply as soon as possible.
Switching to settled status would only be unnecessary if you have been granted British citizenship, and attended your citizenship ceremony, by 30 June. Whilst it is still possible to apply for British citizenship with your permanent residence document, the current decision-making timescales and delays arranging ceremonies due to COVID-19 mean that it is unlikely you will receive a decision before 30 June.
Merely applying for citizenship does not give you any particular residence rights under UK immigration law. If you have applied for citizenship based on a permanent residence document you must still apply for settled status before 30 June or risk being unlawfully resident while awaiting your citizenship decision.
What will happen to those who don’t apply?
When the grace period finishes on 30 June 2021 there will undoubtedly be thousands of EEA nationals and non-EEA family members who have not yet applied to the EU Settlement Scheme. It remains to be seen whether the government plans to address the problem of potential widespread illegality. One solution could be to extend the validity of EU residence documents beyond 30 June to allow those affected more time to apply. But there is absolutely no guarantee of this happening and the government has insisted that the deadline is final.
So for any EEA nationals and their family members who wish to remain in the UK beyond 30 June and have not yet applied to the Settlement Scheme or for British citizenship, this is likely your final reminder – apply now or get ready to face the hostile environment.