The deadline to the EU Settlement Scheme is at the end of this month (30 June 2021), meaning that EU nationals and their family members will have a limited amount of time to apply for visas to either continue to stay in the UK or come into this country, depending on their personal circumstances. For the majority of people who need to apply to the scheme, they may not have much problem with their application, but others may have concerns about falling short of the requirements. One such worry could come if the applicants have been away from the UK for some time, as in many cases, applicants are required to stay in the UK for certain number of days, failing which their applications may be refused.
It may be comforting to know that the Home Office has released guidance which reveals some periods of absence will not affect applications to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), with clarification concerning COVID-19 related absences. This article will focus on what kinds of absences will be admissible and how the Home Office will see certain reasons for applicants being away from the UK for prolonged periods of time.
Absences of up to 12 months due to Covid-19
Under the new guidance an EUSS applicants ‘continuous qualifying period’ of residence will not be broken where they have been absent for a single period of up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’. Some examples of an important reason are pregnancy, overseas posting, studying or training. Each reason will be judged on its own merit. The Home Office’s guidance now is that an important reason may include coronavirus complications, for example, where you can show you were:
- ill with coronavirus
- in quarantine, self-isolating or shielding in accordance with local public health guidance on coronavirus
- caring for a family member affected by coronavirus
- prevented from returning earlier to the UK due to travel disruption caused by coronavirus
- advised by your university that, due to coronavirus, your course was moved to remote learning and you were advised or allowed to return to your home country to study remotely
- advised by your university or employer not to return to the UK, and to continue studying or working remotely from your home country
- absent from the UK for another reason relating to coronavirus, for example, you left or remained outside the UK because there were fewer coronavirus restrictions elsewhere; you preferred to work or run a business from home overseas; or you would have been unemployed in the UK and preferred to rely on support from family or friends overseas
These rules are the same if the applicant did not intend to exceed 6 months away from the UK initially, but ended up doing so, but their absence did not exceed 12 months.
This should offer some peace of mind to the many people who were unable to travel back to the UK due to coronavirus related issues. It would indeed be highly unfair to penalise these applicants for being away from the UK for such reasons.
Evidence needed to prove length and reason for absence
Examples of acceptable evidence include (but are not limited to):
- used travel tickets confirming the dates you left the UK and returned
- confirmation of flight cancellations detailing the dates and times
- doctor’s letter confirming you contracted coronavirus
- doctor’s letter confirming you were identified as vulnerable and advised to shield
- email or letter confirming you, or a person you were living with, received a positive coronavirus test result
- official letter confirming you were in coronavirus quarantine
- doctor’s letter confirming your family member, who you have been caring for, contracted coronavirus or was identified as vulnerable and advised to shield
- email or letter confirming your family member, who you have been caring for, received a positive coronavirus test result
- letter from a university advising you that, due to coronavirus, your course was moved to remote learning and you were advised or allowed to return to your home country to study remotely
- letter from a university or employer advising you not to return to the UK, and to continue studying or working remotely from your home country, due to coronavirus
- letter or other evidence from you accounting for your absence for another reason relating to coronavirus, for example, you left or remained outside the UK because there were fewer coronavirus restrictions elsewhere; you preferred to work or run a business from home overseas; or you would have been unemployed in the UK and preferred to rely on support from family or friends overseas
The Home Office may ask applicants to provide copies of these documents, and in some cases they may require the original copies – so it is important to keep them safe!
What about absences of more than 12 months?
Absences of more than 12 months are treated slightly differently. They will be seen as having broken the continuous qualifying period, but the wording in the guidance suggests that such applicants can still apply to the EUSS if they can prove they were:
- absent for an important reason (including a coronavirus-related reason), and
- ‘coronavirus meant they were prevented from, or advised against, returning to the UK within 12 months and for a period thereafter’
This means that where, after an absence of 12 months for an ‘important reason’, coronavirus meant you were prevented from, or advised against, returning to the UK within 12 months, you will be treated as not having broken your continuous qualifying period of residence.
Student applicants – 12 months away could be an issue?
One difference between the wordings that we can identify is that with absences over 12 months, it appears there must be a direct suggestion for student applicants to be away from the UK, rather than the applicant choosing to remain away from the UK. However, it is different for applicants who have been outside the UK for less than 12 months.
In the former scenario, applicants will have to produce evidence to show that they are requested by their education providers not to return to the UK; while in the latter, it should be that they are suggested or allowed not to return. In another words, one is compulsory to stay outside the UK; while the other one is optional, depending on the applicants’ own decision.
To show what we mean, see the below text regarding reasons for being outside the UK from the guidance around periods of absence of over 12 months:
What do we think?
We are pleased to see that considerations have been made for people being away from the UK. The last year and a half has been difficult for everyone, and travel options have been highly limited. It would be terribly unfair to penalise people for being away from the UK when they have not had a chance to return, or have not been able to return due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances.
Also, for those who have obtained pre-settled status before leaving the UK, they should be able to rest easy in that their period away from the UK will not affect their potential to move on to settled status, in cases where coronavirus or another important reason has meant they were unable to return to the UK. This is another big positive for many people.
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