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EU citizens wishing to naturalise as British citizens now face additional hurdles

By Irene Tsherit- Senior Accredited Immigration Caseworker

It may now be more difficult for European citizens to qualify for British nationality. The most recent Home Office policy guidance, published on 15 May 2020, states that EU citizens with settled status who apply to naturalise as British citizens may now have to provide evidence that they have been residing in the UK lawfully during the qualifying residence period. This will also affect citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Applicants with settled status

In order to qualify for naturalisation, applicants are required to lawfully reside in the UK for 5 years (3 years for spouses of British citizens) prior to making a citizenship application. Many EU citizens residing in the UK have now been granted settled status. However, this in itself is not proof of lawful residence. Settled status is granted on the basis of continuous residence in the UK. In order to obtain settled status applicants are not required to prove that they previously had ‘right to reside’ in this country.

The Home Office considers EU citizens who have been physically present in the UK without ‘right to reside’ to be in breach of immigration law. Therefore, applicants with settled status who are unable to prove that they have been living in the UK legally for the 5-year qualifying period will not qualify for naturalisation. In order to be eligible for British citizenship, European applicants with settled status must ensure that they can evidence 5 years of continuous lawful residence in the UK prior to applying to naturalise.

In other words, the requirements for naturalisation are more stringent (and more complex) than the settled status criteria. This information is new and did not appear in the earlier versions of the Home Office naturalisation policy guidance.

The policy guidance does state that some discretion can be exercised where applicants do not fully meet the lawful residence criteria. For example, European citizens who failed to purchase the required comprehensive health insurance are normally considered to be in breach of immigration law. This may be overlooked, depending on the applicant’s circumstances. However, it is by no means a guarantee and applicants will have to provide convincing reasons for why discretion should be exercised in their favour.

Applicants with a permanent residence card and pre-settled status

The situation is simpler for holders of a permanent residence card, as this is considered to be proof of 5 years of lawful residence in the UK. Applicants who hold a permanent residence card will not need to provide additional evidence of having resided in the UK lawfully during the 5-year qualifying period.

The situation is also more straightforward for those who have been granted pre-settled status. Those who accrue 5 years of continuous residence with pre-settled status can rely on this as evidence of lawful residence during the qualifying period. Additional evidence is only required for those European applicants whose 5 years of UK residence were accrued prior to being granted settled or pre-settled status.

Contact us today

The recent policy change in relation to naturalisation applications has made the process of applying for British citizenship much more complex. We therefore strongly advise applicants affected by these issues to seek legal advice. It is a worrying time for immigrants and in particular those being directly affected by Brexit. Contact us today for guidance and advice. Our law firm has been advising and assisting immigration clients for over 35 years.

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