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Brexit update

Home Office guidance on absences affects Settled Status

MANY OF our EU national members, faced with the prospect of having to work from home for a potentially limited period anyway, went to spend some time in their country of origin last year when they were able. In many cases more spacious accommodation, a lower cost of living, less covid and a kinder climate awaited them. Many of these people now - for all practical purposes - cannot return to the UK for the moment.

EU flag flying from the Swedish Embassy, London W1

EU flag flying from the Swedish Embassy, London W1

Home Office guidance issued in December covers the "qualifying period" around eligibility for Settled Status and Pre-Settled Status. The latter, lower status is for those EU nationals who've been in the UK for less than five years. It is believed that it applies to about a third of the 3.3 million EU nationals in the UK.

The qualifying period affects progression from Pre-Settled Status to Settled Status, or not. Some EU citizens who are currently Pre-Settled and who accrue "lengthy absences" from the UK may never progress to Settled Status. Continued Settled Status is conditional on still living in the UK, and could in the future be revoked if the EU citizen has been out of the UK for a "lengthy absence", or a series of these. We don't yet know the details of how this would work, as the Settled Status scheme's not been going long enough.

The Home Office guidance says that only "important reasons" will be considered as reasonable grounds for absence from the UK during coronavirus pandemics. Self-isolating in quarantine will only be accepted as an "important reason" for being away from the UK for a long time if you are "ill with coronavirus yourself, sharing a house with someone ill with coronavirus... or being in contact with someone who is, in a vulnerable or high-risk category."

So those long periods spent in an EU Member State because it's not been possible to return to the UK from there under quarantine regulations (or not without forking out for 10 days in a random airport hotel) don't count.

This is certainly against the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement. Also, coronavirus may well become a regular thing, with annual seasonal periods of quarantine - potentially for years to come. These would suddenly prevent EU citizens resident in the UK from returning there unless they have a spare grand to blow on the Heathrow Travelodge.

The Freelance notes, however, that there have been numerous occasions when Home Office "guidance" has changed - often in relation to student visas. When guidance ends up in court, it has usually been overturned very quickly by a judge who reminds the Home Office that, under the Immigration Act 1971, such changes have to be "laid before Parliament" before they have the force of law. Just changing the guidance doesn't make it legal. Watch this space.

The Freelance reminds everyone affected that the deadline to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme is 30 June 2021 and EU nationals face deportation if they have not done so by then. Until that date, a post-Brexit "grace period" is in force, during which EU nationals can still apply for the status.

During this grace period landlords and employers cannot ask to see evidence of your EU Settled Status, nor can the UK Border Force at a UK port of entry inquire about your Settled Status: they can ask only whether you are arriving as a visitor or as a resident. They are for the moment able to ask other questions about your stay that are relevant to coronavirus regulations.

EU nationals in London who have yet to get Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status and who experience discrimination as a result of their status are advised to contact the Mayor of London's EU Londoners hub or their London embassy.

Problems with getting a new NUJ Press Card mailed to an address outside the UK persist. This is due to any envelope that looks like it's not "personal correspondence" now needing a Customs declaration on it to leave the UK. NUJ Paris Branch members applying for an NUJ Press Card should contact their Branch.