On 14 May, the government issued a new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules. And once again it included changes to the European Settlement Scheme. Some were small in nature and a tidying up exercise to deal with small omissions or inconsistencies. However, there were two important substantive changes.
The good news is that protection has been extended to those in durable relationships to ensure that if their relationship with a European national breaks down due to domestic violence, they should be able to remain in the United Kingdom in their own right. This comes into force from 4 June 2020.
From 24 August 2020, the rule changes will also allow for dual British and Irish nationals born in Northern Ireland to rely on their Irish nationality to bring dependants to reside with them in the United Kingdom. This allows for a less onerous set of rules to be applied to them, ensuring there is no need for them to fulfil stringent financial requirements, which apply to British people sponsoring their family members.
This was however swiftly followed on 15 May 2020 with some far less welcome news: the new naturalisation guidance clarifies that European citizens who did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance while they were students or self sufficient, or were not exercising a Treaty right during the qualifying period for naturalisation, can be considered to have been in breach of immigration law. This means that if a European national is applying to naturalise having obtained settled status they will still need to show that they fulfilled these requirements during the five year period (or three year period, if married to a British Citizen) before making the application. Unlike under the European Settlement Scheme, where residence in the United Kingdom on its own is sufficient to ensure a grant of status, a successful naturalisation application may need to go beyond mere residence for the qualifying period, if an applicant did not hold pre settled or settled status for part of the period. Home Office caseworkers now have to check whether applicants can be considered to be in breach of immigration law and can request further information to reassure themselves that such time spent in the United Kingdom was ‘on a balance of probabilities’ in accordance with the law. I should add that the guidance also states that it will be possible for caseworkers to waive the requirement on a discretionary basis but without giving any further guidance as to when that would be deemed appropriate.
Given the £1330 fee attached to a naturalisation application, applicants should ensure that they really do qualify before making this payment to the Home Office as only £80 (the cost of the citizenship ceremony) would be reimbursed if the application were refused.
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