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How long can Brits stay in the UK without losing their EU residency?

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many British nationals resident in the EU return to the UK, but those 'waiting out' Covid-19 back in Britain could lose their rights to live in their host country. Here's what you need to know to make sure you keep your EU residency status.

How long can Brits stay in the UK without losing their EU residency?
Brits waiting out the pandemic in the UK could have trouble returning to their homes in the EU. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Brits living in the European Union who have returned to the UK until Covid-19 subsides are being urged not to stay away from their host country for too long – or they risk losing their rights to residence there, warns citizens’ rights group British in Europe.

READ ALSO: How the Brexit deal has changed daily lives of British residents in Europe

Since Britain left the EU on January 1st 2021, British nationals are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). This legislation sets out citizens’ rights, providing for entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits on similar terms to when the UK was part of the EU.

Under this agreement, there is a limit to the amount of time Brits can be away from their host country – that is, the EU country they moved to. How much time you’ve been resident in your host country determines how long you can spend in the UK.

If you have permanent residence under the Withdrawal Agreement, the permitted absence from your EU country is five years. Permanent residence is granted for anyone who has “been living in a Member State continuously and lawfully for five years at the end of the transition period”, according to UK government guidelines.

Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

What does continuously mean? The UK government advice is that “individuals will generally have been lawfully residing in their host state for at least six months in any 12-month period”.

That means you’re in the clear if you possess permanent residency under the Withdrawal Agreement. Unless you plan to stay in the UK for several more years from now, you aren’t in danger of losing your residency rights while you’re away.

READ ALSO: Brexit: Anger and frustration for Brits in Italy amid confusion over new biometric ID card

On the other hand, if this doesn’t apply to you and you have ordinary residence instead, the permitted absence is a total of six months in a 12-month period.

This can be extended, however, to “one absence of a maximum of twelve consecutive months for important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, study or vocational training, or a posting in another Member State or a third country”.

Does Covid-19 count as an important reason?

The Agreement provides for cases of serious illness, so if you caught Covid-19 in the UK, you can argue this is valid for extending the six-month absence to 12 months.

It gets more difficult to define if your individual case falls outside of these allowances. You may personally believe your circumstances warrant staying away for longer than six months: difficulty of travel, looking after an ill relative, your struggling mental health if you return to an apartment to live alone are all good reasons to stay in the UK. However, it’s not clear cut whether this will be accepted and each country will have different rules.

As there are no clear guidelines on which Covid-related reasons would justify an extension, if you have ordinary residence, you could lose your residence rights if you are absent for more than six months.

Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP

It can sometimes be tricky to calculate exactly how long your period of permitted absences is. EU rights service Your Europe Advice may be able to advise on your individual case – you can contact them here.

How can you prove how long you’ve been away from your EU residence?

On returning to your host country – or the EU transit country – you may be asked questions about your residence at the border. You will be required to explain that you haven’t been away from your host country for more than a six-month period, or that you have solid grounds for extending this to 12 months.

“You should, therefore, be ready to provide proof of your periods of absence and, if claiming more than six months’ absence for Covid-related reasons, to provide documentary proof of those reasons,” states British in Europe.

Proof of these absences can be in the form of travel tickets. Meanwhile the group says that any Covid-related documentation will need to be “convincing”. This could include test results and details of treatment.

And of course, you’ll need to prove that you’re resident in your EU country in the first place. Show border guards your residence card if you have one, or if your country doesn’t use them or hasn’t issued yours yet, carry documentation such as property deeds, rental agreements, employment contracts or utility bills that show you’re based there. 

More details and FAQs on UK nationals’ residence rights in the EU can be found on the European Commission’s website here.

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Member comments

  1. 20.3.2021 Spring Starts!

    Hello,

    If living in the EU then I think the best thing is to apply for Dual nationality. This was possible in Germany, but I am unsure if still available. It will certainly save a lot of problems.

    What do others think about this?

    1. Germany allows British citizens to keep their citizenship when applying for naturalisation as long as the application was submitted and all relevant requirements (length of residence, language level certificate and the citizenship test) were completed before 31 December 2020 – any applications made after that date would require you to renounce your British citizenship before the German authorities will grant you German citizenship. Germany only allows dual nationality with other EU member states or Switzerland, so as the transition period finished on 31 December 2020 so did this possibility.

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Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

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The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.

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