ArticleHow lengthy absences can affect your EU settled status in the UK

In recent developments, excess absences from the UK remain a significant risk for holders of pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Despite recent changes designed to streamline the transition from pre-settled to settled status, the UK Home Office maintains a firm stance on absences, potentially causing confusion and complications for EU citizens and their family members.

Recent changes to the EU Settlement Scheme

Recent changes to the EU Settlement Scheme may result in some pre-settled status holders being automatically upgraded to settled status by the Home Office. Others might see their pre-settled status extended for an additional five years, up from the previous two-year extension. These changes, however, do not alter the government’s strict position on absences from the UK.

Understanding Pre-settled and Settled Status

EU citizens and their family members who were living in the UK by 31 December 2020 are eligible for pre-settled status, which can be upgraded to settled status after completing a continuous qualifying period of five years. A “continuous qualifying period” is defined as a period of residence that has not been interrupted by certain factors, including absences from the UK exceeding six months in any 12-month period, subject to specific exceptions.

Calculating absences

The Home Office’s approach to calculating absences considers any six-month period within a rolling 12-month timeframe, rather than a calendar year. This method requires individuals to be vigilant about their travel patterns. While the EU views a six-month period as half a year, the Home Office uses a stricter standard of 180 days. Absences are counted as whole days, with only full days spent outside the UK considered.

Exceptions to the six-month rule

There are exceptions to the six-month absence rule, including compulsory military service, Crown service postings, and a single period of up to 12 months for important reasons such as pregnancy, serious illness, or vocational training. Additionally, COVID-19-related absences may also qualify for exceptions. However, multiple absences totalling more than six months typically disqualify an individual from meeting the continuous residence requirement.

Implications for pre-settled status holders

Individuals with pre-settled status who exceed the allowed absences and return to the UK after 31 December 2020 will find it challenging to restart the five-year qualifying period for settled status. Even with an extension of their pre-settled status, they may not qualify for settled status if their continuous residence has been interrupted. In such cases, individuals must explore other visa options, such as the Skilled Worker visa, to remain in the UK.

How to avoid pitfalls?

To avoid issues with absences, pre-settled status holders should ensure they do not exceed six months of absence in any 12-month period. The Home Office’s extension of pre-settled status by two to five years provides some flexibility, but it does not reset the continuous residence clock. Being aware of the rules and exceptions is crucial for maintaining eligibility for settled status.

Excess absences remain a significant risk for EU pre-settled status holders, despite recent changes to the EU Settlement Scheme. Understanding the rules and carefully managing absences are essential to ensure eligibility for settled status. Those with questions or concerns should seek professional advice to navigate these complex regulations effectively.

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