Mark Lazarowicz: New hurdles for EU nationals who wish to become British citizens
A change in the immigration guidance issued by the Home Office is likely to make it much harder for many EU citizens in the UK to become British citizens. Prior to that change, an EU citizen who had acquired “Settled Status”, which gives them “indefinite leave to remain”, could rely on that to meet the requirement that they had resided in the UK that is necessary for a person who wishes to acquire UK nationality. After holding settled status for one year, they could then apply for naturalisation, or even sooner if they were married to a UK citizen. In that case, they could apply immediately they obtained settled status. Applicants would still need to pass the other tests before their application was granted, and pay an application fee.
Now, a grant of settled status will not automatically be a sufficient basis to proceed with an application for naturalisation. The new guidance means that Home Office decision-makers will be required not just to check whether the applicant has resided in the UK for necessary period, but also the evidence to show that it was “lawful” throughout that period.
That may be difficult for someone who has had different employers during that period, or has had gaps in employment. Self-employed people might not be able to show sufficient income throughout the period. Particular difficulties might be encountered by people who had been students, or had relied on their partner’s income, during some of that time. They could be asked to show they had “comprehensive sickness insurance” for the relevant periods. This may be difficult for those who had assumed that by paying UK tax and national insurance they did not also need to have that insurance cover as well.
Others may not have kept the evidence to support an application for British citizenship, having assumed they would no longer need to do so once they had been awarded settled status.
It is true that the guidance does give some limited discretion to Home Office officials to overlook minor breaches of the requirement for an EU citizen to show that they have been fulfilling the strict letter of the definition of “lawful residence”. Nevertheless it is likely that many EU citizens, even though they have been granted settled status, will have difficulties in producing the necessary evidence. Some may decide not to apply if they are uncertain if the evidence is sufficient, as the application fee of £1330 will not be refunded if the application is refused.
It should be emphasised that EU citizens who wish to apply for settled status will not normally need to produce detailed evidence of this nature to acquire that status. This change, however, means that those who wish to become British citizens thereafter may now face new hurdles.
It will still be possible for an EU citizen with settled status, who cannot provide the necessary evidence, to apply for naturalisation after 5 years further residence in the UK in order to satisfy the residence requirements. During that period, however, they will not enjoy the wider rights granted by UK citizenship.
Mark Lazarowicz is a member of Terra Firma Chambers