How difficult is it for EU nationals to apply for residence rights in the UK?

Published: 3rd Mar 2017

“We have in Bedford many cases of people who have applied to have residency. They have an 85-page document to fill in. I have friends who have been living in 40 years, married with children, and they have been refused to have a British passport. … the Home Office is making it very, very difficult”

BBC Question Time audience member, 3 March 2017

Citizens of other EU countries have the right to stay in the UK indefinitely if they’ve lived here legally and continuously for five years. They have to meet certain criteria to qualify for this “permanent residence” status, broadly speaking whether they’re working, looking for work, self-employed, studying or self-sufficient.

Citizens of the European Economic Area can apply—using an 85 page document—for a card or document as proof of permanent residence, although at the moment they don’t have to. This can then be used to apply for British citizenship.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss commented on last night’s programme that this process was important so that “we do have proper checks on people who are seeking residency in this country”.

When the UK leaves the EU, ‘permanent residence’ status will no longer apply here unless the government chooses to recognise or replace it. Immigration experts at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory have said that “it is likely to be more difficult (politically and legally) for the government to remove this status from people who already hold it”.

The government has said it wants to reach an agreement to protect the status of EU citizens already living in the UK and those of UK citizens living in other EU countries as soon as possible.

The House of Lord’s recent change to the Brexit bill may require the government to protect the status of EU citizens separate to any guarantee for UK citizens abroad, if this change is also passed by the House of Commons. We don’t know how this registration process would look in practice.

Growing number of EU citizens applying for permanent residence

Since the UK voted to leave the EU, we have seen growing numbers of people applying to get proof of their permanent residence status.

As well as having to fill out long documents, proving eligibility can be complicated for some people. We don’t know the circumstances of the individuals mentioned by the audience member, but the Migration Observatory sets out why individuals might have difficulties.

At the moment, students and those who are self sufficient, such as retired people, have to have “comprehensive sickness insurance”, according to the Observatory. It says there is some uncertainty, even among immigration lawyers, over how to meet this requirement.

Those who are self-employed too may find it tricky to prove their eligibility, depending on whether they have kept several years worth of the relevant paperwork.

Permanent residence as a concept comes from EU law, as opposed to ‘indefinite leave to remain’ which is the route to settlement for non-EU citizens.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


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