January 2016 – Under the British Nationality Act 1981 to qualify for British citizenship an applicant must show, amongst other things, that he or she is settled in the UK (i.e. he or she is free from any immigration restriction on the period for which he or she might remain in the UK).
Under normal circumstances, citizens of EU and EEA countries and their family members automatically gain permanent residence after exercising their treaty rights in the UK for 5 years.
Until November 2015, citizens of EU and EEA countries, who had automatically gained permanent residence in the UK, could apply for naturalisation providing that they could show that they had been free from immigration restriction for at least 12 months prior to filing for British citizenship.
Pursuant of British Nationality (General) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations 2015, citizens of EU and EEA countries are now required to apply for a permanent residence card before they can apply for British citizenship. To do so, they are expected to complete the 85 page long EEA (PR) form and pay a processing fee of £65 per applicant.
Bearing in mind that the EEA Caseworking is taking on average 6 months, this additional requirement is going to extend the naturalisation process, which is by nature already a very protracted exercise, considerably.
Over the last few months, many of our clients were advised by the UKVI’s helpline and some of the Nationality Checking Centres that they would have to wait 12 months from obtaining their PR card before being able to file for naturalisation. The rational being that the PR card would in essence recognise their permanent residence only from the date of the card’s issuance rather than from the date they became permanent resident automatically by operation of EU law.
For instance, a Spanish national working in the UK since 2000 but issued with a PR card in 2015 would have to wait until 2016 to qualify for British Citizenship.
This interpretation of the regulations seemed to be at odds with EU Free movement law and needed to be clarified.
Following a recent FOI request the nationality policy team have now confirmed that permanent residence is acquired following 5 years of residence in accordance with the EEA Regulations and not on the date the residence card is issued. The date an applicant is deemed to have acquired permanent residence is recorded on the UKVI’s database and will be noted by the caseworker processing the naturalisation application. It would appear that this information has yet to filter down to the army of staff dealing with ad-hoc enquiries.
For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.