Even though the 2016 referendum sent large tidal waves of shock throughout the UK’s European community, the picture does not appear to be as concerning as originally thought.
Various European groups living in the UK who seemed to be vulnerable after Brexit, need not worry – and this group includes European spouses of British citizens.
Now that a long period of uncertainty has come to an end, most European spouses of British citizens will find that they can secure their right to live in the UK with little to no difficulty.
Pre-Brexit: EU citizens’ Legal Position in the UK
For many years, Europeans married to British citizens lived peacefully in the UK without worrying about the legal formalities surrounding their residence.
However, the referendum forced many to face ground realities of their immigration status. According to the law, EU nationals were meant to be employed in an organisation, self-employed, staying in the UK as students or financially “independent” – in order to reside long-term.
Or, they needed to be a family member of someone in the above categories. Unfortunately, Europeans only ever became fully aware of this if they applied for optional residence documentation – which confirms their right to stay here. Most didn’t bother to do this.
There was much revolt against the status of EU citizens in particular who were financially supported by British spouses, because most had been living in the UK for years and saw their British children growing up. But most didn’t qualify as being “self sufficient” because they couldn’t get sickness insurance – and were refused residence documentation as a result.
Post-Brexit: The New Legal Position
In March 2018, the first draft of a proposed deal came to light: the Withdrawal Agreement, which contained clauses pertaining to legal protection for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
In August the same year, a UK-specific system was put in place to grant EU residents “settled status” – something which offered far more leeway to Europeans who had British spouses than the Withdrawal Agreement itself.
The only requirement for EU citizens now who were interested in applying for residence documentation – was to live in the UK by a certain date, which was subject to criminal background checks, of course. Or put another way, self-sufficiency, employment, medical insurance, etc. were no longer relevant.
This pretty much means that non-working European spouses of British citizens will get the same treatment as all their working and unmarried European counterparts. There is a stipulation, however, which states that they must live in the UK until December 2020, that is, unless the UK leaves with no deal.
Therefore, all EU nationals in the UK must apply for an EU Settlement Scheme by June 2021. However, if there’s no deal “for certain” by the end of this year, then they’ll need to apply for the scheme by December 2020.
Applicants living in the UK for 5 years or more are eligible for the “full settled status” – giving them the right to reside permanently here – a status which can only be surrendered after 5 consecutive years of not living in the UK.
Staying in the UK as a European spouse under the Settlement Scheme
All EU citizens married to British spouses wishing to stay here must have residence documentation under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Just to quickly reiterate, June 30, 2021 is the deadline if the UK walks out of the EU with a deal – December 31, 2020 if there is no deal.
The process revolves around a mobile app based initial enrolment which scans identification documentation, after which applicants must complete an online form.