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DEALING WITH BREXIT

EXPLAINED: What Brits with EU partners need to know about returning to live in UK

While many of the 1.2 million Brits living in the EU have no immediate plans to return to the UK, circumstances can change. For those who have non-British partners heading home on a long-term basis could be more difficult than they imagined. We explain why.

EXPLAINED: What Brits with EU partners need to know about returning to live in UK
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Since Brexit, the UK has a strict immigration policy in place for EU nationals moving to the country and contrary to popular belief, even if they are married to a British national it does not exempt them from those requirements.

So whether you’re planning a move back to the UK with your non-British partner in the near future or whether you just want to keep your options open, here’s what you need to know.

Moving before March 29th 2022

If your moving plans are imminent, you should be able to meet the deadline of March 29th 2022, which is an important cut-off point.

Thanks to campaigning groups like British in Europe, the UK government agreed to a grace period for Brits living in the EU to move back and bring their non-British spouses with them.

The March 29th date relates to the UK’s original exit date from the EU, and British in Europe is campaigning for an extension to reflect the several delays before the UK actually left.

This means the process is easier – but it’s still not simple.

First you must apply to the Home Office in the UK for an EU Settled Status Family Permit. This must be done before the move and the EU partner should not enter the UK until they have the permit.

Processing time for these permits vary, some people have reported it has taken several months, while others have had their application rejected and had to begin the lengthy appeals process.

Once you have the permit you can then make the move, and once in the UK the EU partner needs to apply for EU pre-settled status.

This application must be made before March 29th 2022 in order to benefit from the Settled Status system, which is now closed to all other new arrivals from the EU.

The advantage of this system is that the EU partner does not have to satisfy immigration criteria such as financial thresholds.

Moving after March 2022

If you move back to the UK with a non-British partner after March 2022, or you don’t get the application submitted in time, you fall under the new immigration regime.

This means that the EU partner will need a visa to enter the country, and in most cases this needs to be applied for before the move.

Some people think that being married to a Brit means more or less unlimited entry to the UK, but in fact this is not the case and the couple must comply with strict rules including minimum income levels. For people in low-earning professions, or those who are not able to work in the UK, this could effectively bar the non-EU partner from entering the country.

There are essentially two routes – the non-EU partner can apply for a visa in their own right, or the British partner can sponsor their partner for a visa

Own visa

The points-based system that now applies to EU citizens is the same as the system in place for non-EU nationals and essentially requires applications to gain a required level of points by things like earning enough money, having sufficient language skills or having certain skills or qualifications that the UK has a shortage of.

Find our more here.

Sponsored visa

There is also an option for the British partner to sponsor their EU spouse’s visa, but this too has a minimum income requirement.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in the UK lays out the following income thresholds British partners must earn in order to sponsor their EU national spouse.

  • Partner only – minimum of £18,600 a year
  • Partner and children – minimum of £18,600 a year plus £3,800 for the first child and an extra £2,400 for each child after that. The extra income for children only applies if the children do not hold British citizenship or have residence rights in the UK.

Income can come from savings, pensions, rental income or earnings – but only earnings in the UK are taken into account, so if you have a salary from the EU country where you have been living, this would not be taken into account.

This could also rule out – for example – someone returning to the UK in order to take care of elderly or ill family members, who may not be able to work while taking on caring responsibilities.

If you do not meet the income requirements you can make up the amount through savings, if you have a sufficient amount. This needs to be £16,000 plus an extra £2.50 for every £1 below the income threshold you fall. The savings must have been in your name for six months or more.

If you’re British and don’t have a foreign partner (or you’re willing to dump your partner for the pleasure of living in a country of drizzle and chunky chips) then you can move back at any time without the need for a visa.

Visits

Short visits back to the UK to visit friends or family are allowed, although the non-British partner will need to be aware of new travel rules since the end of the Brexit transition period, including the end of using national ID cards for immigration purposes – only passports are now permitted. The same applies to children.

But longer visits should be approached with caution to ensure that the non-Brit does not exceed their maximum allowed number of days in the country. The 90-day rule applies to EU nationals visiting the UK, but the UK rules allow 180 days together, they don’t need to be divided into two sets of 90 like in the EU.

There are also reports of EU arrivals being grilled by immigration officials on arrival and some people who said they intended to, for example, help with childcare for their family were treated as unauthorised job-seekers and detained, so be sure you are very clear that you do not intend to work while in the UK. 

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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