November 6, 2020

Brexit and Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that Brexit may have taken a backseat in terms of people’s priorities, but the end of the transition period is fast approaching. Many are probably tired of the same Brexit talks, but it is important to be aware of the crucial dates that will impact European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and employers.

EEA nationals

From 1 January 2021, freedom of movement will end and any EEA national coming to the UK for work will need a valid visa to allow them to work under the new immigration system. This does not impact EEA nationals already in the UK or those that arrive by 31 December 2020 as they are expected to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) that will allow them to continue to work and live in the UK. EEA nationals that wish to remain in the UK will need to complete the EUSS application by 30th June 2021.

The EUSS will either grant an individual pre-settled or settled status. Pre-settled status is a five-year leave which can be later switched to settled status once the individual completes five years of residence in the UK.

Non-EEA family members

Family members of non-EEA nationals must also apply under the EUSS and the deadline is the same with a few exceptions.

They must also be in the UK before 31 December 2020 and apply under the EUSS by 30 June 2021. However, if they are not in the UK by the end of the transition period, they can still apply as long as the EEA family member has obtained pre-settled or settled status and their relation began prior to 31 December 2020. Family members of Swiss citizens have an extended timeframe in which the relationship must have begun before 31 December 2025.

Brexit and right to work checks

Employers should guide their current employees on the necessary steps and the crucial dates but they do not need to conduct retrospective right to work checks for their current EEA employees as their passports will remain sufficient. Employers also cannot insist employees confirm their EUSS status until after 30th June 2021. Unfortunately there is no guidance from the government on how employers are to check whether their EEA employees have completed the EUSS by 30 June 2021 but we assume further details will be provided closer to the time.

As the employment of an EU national after the 30 June 2021 without lawful status, either under the EUSS or under the new immigration system, could be considered unlawful, we advise clients to obtain evidence of status prior to this date on a voluntary basis.

Final checklist

Have robust right to work checks and up-to-date records of current employees.
Be aware of deadlines that relate to Brexit, and that EEA nationals and their family members are able to demonstrate their right to work.
Possess a valid Sponsor Licence to allow the company the flexibility to apply for any necessary work visas.
Review potential new hires in the coming months.
Review potential internal company transfers and the activities they will be engaged in while in the UK. Will any of these need work visas or will they be eligible to enter under the Visitor rules?
Carefully consider your Certificate of Sponsorship needs over the next 12 months and beyond

November 5, 2020

Immigration and asylum interviews exempt from English lockdown

A blanket lockdown began today — in England; other jurisdictions are available — and runs for 28 days. During that time, people are not to leave home “without reasonable excuse”. The lockdown regulations include a list of things that automatically qualify as a reasonable excuse, although it is non-exhaustive so other excuses that are reasonable will also qualify.

The list of reasonable excuses is in regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020 No. 1200). As I’ve already highlighted on our main coronavirus page, but wanted to pull out in case it’s a little hidden away, there is a specific exception for visas and asylum:

(4) Exception 2 is that it is reasonably necessary for [the person concerned] to leave or be outside [their] home…

(f) to access critical public services, including…

(iv) asylum and immigration services and interviews.

By contrast, the regulations enforcing Lockdown 1.0 in March did not explicitly say that asylum and immigration services were “critical public services”. They did include a separate exception for people to “fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings”, which appears again in the new regulations.

The Home Office has also updated its guidance to emphasise that “our in-country immigration services (UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services, Service and Support Centres and English Language Test centres) will remain open” this time around.

November 5, 2020

Six pitfalls to avoid with EU Settlement Scheme

Despite the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) being publicised as simple and straightforward, there are many potential pitfalls for the unwary, particularly when the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic are factored in. To avoid them, individuals must be aware of the scheme and get to grips with it before the end of 2020 because, in some cases, assessments and actions must be completed by then, despite the main deadline for the scheme being 30 June 2021.

This article sets out some of the potential pitfalls and suggestions for how to avoid them.

People unaware of scheme and when they must apply or take other actions

The Home Office’s latest statistics show that by 30 September 2020 more than 4 million people have applied under the EUSS, but the total number of people who are eligible to apply is currently unknown.

As the scheme is an application rather than a registration scheme, those who are currently living in the United Kingdom and must apply but fail to secure their status thereunder will have no lawful immigration status in the United Kingdom beyond 30 June 2021. The Home Office will be able consider late applications with a reasonable excuse; however, individuals who apply out of time will not have the right to work, rent or access free healthcare until their application has been approved.

The 30 June 2021 deadline also applies to individuals currently living abroad who acquired permanent residence status in the United Kingdom less than five years ago. As permanent residence status is lost after a two-year continuous absence from the United Kingdom, it is highly likely that some individuals who are eligible to apply may think that the scheme does not apply to them.

The situation can also be more complex for family members who may potentially fall within the scope of the scheme, but who must act by 31 December 2020 to secure their eligibility. For example, in many cases the relevant family relationship must be established by 31 December 2020.

A recent report by the Migration Observatory outlines a range of reasons why people may fail to secure status under the EUSS, which includes people who are still unaware of the scheme or think that it does not apply to them.

There are also potential issues that may arise where employers, landlords or others are unaware:

of the grace period from 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021; or
that EUSS status in many cases will be verifiable only online.
Where an eligible person has not yet obtained status under the EUSS, or cannot present physical documentation confirming their status under the scheme, there is a risk that they may incorrectly have employment or rental accommodation refused or terminated or they may be denied other services.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include the following:

Employers can minimise potential disruption to their business by sending periodic firmwide communications with information on the scheme and supporting members of their workforce to apply. This support can range from providing signposting to more detailed information to arranging advice sessions or supporting the cost of immigration assistance for the process.
Employers with European offices may choose to include information on the EUSS and frontier worker permits as part of communications relating to Brexit.
Individuals can choose not to wait until the grace period to make their application, ensure that they read the government guidance in their approval letter (which they will receive by email) on how their status can be verified and share this information with relevant third parties.
Applying under EUSS when it is unnecessary

Some EEA national children born in the United Kingdom may be British by birth and should therefore not make an application under the EUSS. This is because such children have the right of abode in the United Kingdom and are not subject to the Immigration Rules.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include:

checking whether an EEA national child is a British citizen by birth; and
considering making a British passport application for a child who is a British citizen in order to evidence their British nationality and facilitate their travel to and from the United Kingdom after the end of the transition period.
People not lawfully in United Kingdom during post-transition grace period

Draft regulations published on 21 September 2020 confirm the government’s intention to allow EEA nationals and their family members who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom by 31 December 2020 to be covered by a grace period to enable them to apply under the EUSS after the end of the transition period. The grace period will last from the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 until 30 June 2021. It also extends beyond 30 June 2021 where an individual has an EUSS application or related appeal outstanding.

However, the problem for some people is that the benefit of the grace period will not apply to those whose residence in the United Kingdom is not in line with the requirements of the current Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016. Obvious examples of people who would be excluded are students and the economically self-sufficient who do not hold comprehensive sickness insurance.

The consequence of not being covered by the grace period is that a person will be exposed to hostile environment measures until they are granted leave under the EUSS. This includes not being allowed to work, rent private accommodation or access free healthcare.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include:

ensuring comprehensive sickness insurance is in place by 31 December 2020 for individuals who are students or economically self-sufficient; and
submitting applications under the EUSS as soon as possible, with a view to minimising or eliminating the time that the applicant is in the United Kingdom without lawful status.
Applicants not understanding residence requirements for settled status

If a person with pre-settled status spends more than six months in any 12-month period outside the United Kingdom, this will break the continuity of their residence for settlement eligibility purposes. There is an exception that a single absence of up to 12 months for an important reason (eg, childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training or an overseas work posting) can be ignored. Compulsory military service and being abroad as a Crown servant, armed forces member or their family member will also be ignored.

The Home Office has produced no specific policy on how absences due to COVID-19 will be treated for the purpose of settlement under the EUSS; however, this may be produced at some point in the future.

However, it is clear that as long as a fresh continuous residence period is started by 31 December 2020 following a break in continuous residence, it is possible to make a further application for pre-settled status by 30 June 2021. Otherwise, where continuous residence has been broken, it would be necessary to qualify for an extension of stay under one of the categories of the new UK immigration system or depart the United Kingdom before the expiry of the pre-settled status.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include:

reviewing absences in the lead up to 31 December 2020;
ensuring that a fresh period of residence in the United Kingdom commences by 31 December 2020 if continuous residence has been broken; and
making a further application for pre-settled status by 30 June 2021.

Applicants not meeting residence requirements for naturalisation

The residence requirements for naturalisation are different from the requirements for settlement, and this should not be ignored by people who wish to obtain British citizenship, particularly in view of the travel and other disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recognition of the effect that the pandemic is having on international travel and in particular absences from the United Kingdom, on 2 September 2020 the Home Office published an update to its naturalisation guidance. The update confirms that where an applicant has absences from the United Kingdom of between 480 and 900 days during the qualifying period for naturalisation (or between 300 and 540 days for applicants with a British spouse), their excess absences may be ignored if they were unable to return to the United Kingdom due to a global pandemic.

Absences of more than 100 days but no more than 180 days in the final year of the qualifying period may also be ignored if the applicant was unable to return to the United Kingdom due to a global pandemic. There is also discretion to ignore a higher level of final year absences in limited circumstances.

In most cases, applicants will also need to have established their home, employment, family and finances in the United Kingdom.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include:

understanding what the residence requirements are for naturalisation (ie, eligibility may be adversely affected if the applicant spends more than 450 days outside the United Kingdom during the five-year qualifying period or 270 days over the three-year qualifying period (for those with a British spouse or civil partner) or more than 90 days outside the United Kingdom during the 12 months before the application);
recording and monitoring absences from the United Kingdom;
avoiding non-essential international travel outside the United Kingdom until travelling conditions become more predictable; and
considering whether absences from the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic are due to an inability to return to the United Kingdom or a preference – in the latter case it may be that excess absences will not be ignored.

Applicants not understanding implications of end of transition period for naturalisation applications

Naturalisation applications for people with a UK permanent residence document can be submitted 12 months after the date that the Home Office has recognised on the permanent residence approval letter; however, the Home Office has confirmed that individuals who have a permanent residence document will be unable to apply for naturalisation based on this after 31 December 2020 if they have also been granted settled status under the EUSS. They must wait until at least 12 months have elapsed from when they were granted settled status. Naturalisation applicants must also build in time to prepare for and pass the Life in the UK Test unless they are exempt from this requirement.

Individuals who have a British citizenship application pending on 30 June 2021 (the main in-country deadline for applications under the EUSS) must make an application under the EUSS by 30 June 2021, otherwise they will be considered to be an overstayer.

Actions to take to avoid issues arising include:

submitting any naturalisation application relying on a permanent residence document before 31 December 2020 if eligible; and
submitting an application for settled status under the EUSS by 30 June 2021 if an application for naturalisation is still pending at that point.