If you want to apply for British citizenship as an EU citizen you will need to know if you have the right to a UK spouse visa, UK residence card, and/or an EEA family permit for the UK. Find out in this useful guide to British immigration.
EU freedom of movement regulations means most citizens of EU/EFTA countries can live and work in the UK without restrictions. This also applies their relatives and partners. However, this situation may change in the near future following the 2016 Brexit vote.
If you are an EU/EFTA citizen moving to the UK, you don’t need an EEA family permit. This applies to all EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK, although there are still some restrictions on Croatian nationals. All EU citizens in the UK qualify for permanent residence status if staying for longer than five years. They don’t need a UK residence card.
Different conditions currently apply for non-EU/EFTA nationals coming to the UK. See our guide on how apply for a UK visa.
This guide to UK immigration policy for EU/EFTA citizens and their family includes:
- UK immigration policy for EU/EFTA citizens entering the country
- Brexit: What will happen to EU citizens in the UK?
- An EU/EFTA citizens right to work in the UK
- Special British immigration rule for Croatians moving to the UK
- EU/EFTA citizens studying in the UK
- The UK residence card
- The UK spouse visa and EEA family permit (UK)
- How to apply for British citizenship as an EU citizen
There is also a further information section at the end of the guide with resources for EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK.
UK immigration policy for EU/EFTA citizens entering the country
The UK is currently an EU member state. This means that citizens of all 28 EU member states plus those of European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein) can travel to the UK and enter without a visa with the intention to live, and have a right to work in the UK. This is a fundamental principle of the EU Treaty on Freedom of Movement enshrined in Article 45. EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK will not be subject to any restrictions providing they don’t have any outstanding criminal convictions.
The UK opted out of the Schengen Agreement and is not one of the 26 Schengen Area countries, meaning that it retains its own border controls and EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK will need to present a valid passport upon entry. However, there are no requirements for EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK to register their stay with UK immigration authorities. They will not need a UK residence card.
Read our guide on UK entry requirements for non-EU/EFTA citizens for more information.
Brexit: What will happen to EU citizens in the UK?
Following the Brexit vote in 2016, the UK is due to leave the European Union in 2019. According to the current timetable, Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017. This means that the UK will cease to be a member state by the end of March 2019.
This has implications for the freedom of movement of EU/EFTA citizens and their right to work in the UK, to visa-free travel, study, and settle in the UK. No decisions have been made yet regarding future arrangements and it’s possible that an agreement will be reached where freedom of movement is retained, in full or in part. The current situation is that freedom of movement continues as normal to and from the UK and no changes have been made as yet as a result of Brexit.
A further issue that has yet to be fully resolved is regarding the rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK, both those who have settled permanently and those who have lived in the UK for less than 5 years. The UK government issued a statement in July 2016 confirming that the rights and status of EU nationals has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and that the legal status of EU nationals currently living in the UK is expected to be protected following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This will hopefully be confirmed early on in the Brexit negotiation process.
EU/EFTA citizen’s right to work in the UK
EU regulations on free movement means that those who move to the UK from the EU/EFTA can:
- look for a job in the UK
- work in the UK without needing a work permit or UK residence card
- reside in the country with a right to work in the UK
- work as self-employed or set up a business
- stay in the country to retire in the UK
- enjoy equal treatment with UK nationals in access to employment, working conditions, and all other social security and UK tax benefits
You don’t need to have a residence permit as an EU/EFTA citizen working in the UK. You can apply for a registration certificate if you want to have proof of your right as an EU/EFTA citizen to live and work in the UK. The registration certificate is useful if you need to claim social security benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) as you will need to prove that you are ‘habitually resident’ (that the UK is the place where you normally live) and have been living in the UK for at least 3 months.
EU/EFTA citizens working in the UK will need to apply for a National Insurance (NI) number to access social security benefits and ensure that they pay the correct amount of tax. You can apply for a NI number through the UK government website here.
If you are an EU/EFTA citizen working in the UK and you become unemployed, you can register for JSA if you have lived in the UK for at least 3 months and agree to look for a replacement job. JSA can be claimed for a maximum of 6 months (9 months for those with ‘retained worker’ status). You may also be eligible for other benefits. If you are an EU/EFTA citizen living in the UK for long term without a job, you will be expected to support yourself without recourse to public funds (unless you are a retired person who has made UK pension contributions).
See our article on UK work visas for more information on working in the UK.
Special British immigration rule for Croatians moving to the UK
There are currently restrictions on Croatian nationals entering the labor market in the UK (-). If you are a Croatian citizen coming to the UK, you must apply for a registration certificate to work. You will also need to be working, self-employed, studying, or able to support yourself in order to stay in the UK for longer than three months.
More information on working in the UK as a Croatian is available on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.
EU/EFTA citizens studying in the UK
If you are from one of the EFTA countries, you are free to study or look for a place of study in the UK without any restrictions. EU/EFTA citizens studying in the UK to work in the UK around their studies without requiring a visa. Following completion of studies, EU/EFTA citizens studying in the UK will have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EU/EFTA nationals.
See our guide to the UK education system for more information.
The UK residence card
EU/EFTA citizens living in the UK can do so without a residence permit, although some non-EU/EFTA family members will need to apply for a permit. If you are an EU/EFTA citizen living in the UK, you can apply voluntarily for a registration certificate after any period of time living in the UK. This is a useful way of proving your rights as an EU/EFTA resident in the UK, especially in situations where you need to prove habitual residence (that the UK is the place where you normally live).
You can apply for a UK registration certificate through the following ways:
- as a qualified person (if you are working, self-employed, looking for work, studying, or self-sufficient)
- as a family member (partner, dependant, or extended family member)
You can access the UK registration certificate application form through the UK Visas and Immigration website. The cost of the certificate is £65.
You can apply for a UK registration certificate online through the UK Visas and Immigration website, download the application form and post to the address on the form, or go to the nearest UK visa premium service center. Application form available here. List of UK visa premium centers available here.
The UK spouse visa and EEA family permit (UK)
EU/EFTA citizens in the UK have the right to be joined by the following family members regardless of their nationality:
- spouses or partners
- children under 21 or dependent children of any age (including spouse/partner’s children)
- dependent parents or grandparents (or those of spouse/partner)
- dependent siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews or cousins
Family members of EU/EFTA citizens in the UK have a right to work and study in the UK, although non-EU/EFTA relatives may need to apply for a residence card if they want to work.
To be joined by family members, you must be either have permanent residency or be a ‘qualified person’ which means you must be either working, self-employed, financially self-sufficient or studying. Those unemployed and looking for work may be able to be joined by family if they meet certain conditions.
EEA family permit for the UK
Family members from non-EU/EFTA countries will need to apply for a free EEA Family Permit to come to the UK. This is a multi-entry permit valid for 6 months and can be extended. To apply for a family permit, the EU/EFTA citizen you’re joining must be either in the UK or traveling with you.
To apply for a UK family permit, you need to provide:
- a valid passport
- evidence of relationship to EU/EFTA family member along with a copy of their passport
- proof of dependency if you’re qualifying as a dependent family member
- evidence that your family member is a permanent resident or qualified person (working, self-employed, studying or financially self-sufficient)
- proof that your family member is able to financially support you if you are applying as a dependent family member
The family member must have full health insurance if they are a student or financially self-sufficient.
Information on how to apply for an EEA Family Permit can be found here.
UK residence card
Extended family members from outside the EU/EFTA need to apply for a UK residence card. This costs £65 and is valid for five years. Extended family members are siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and partners if they are not married or in a civil partnership. For EU/EFTA citizens in the UK as students, dependent parents, and grandparents are also classified as extended family members.
Other non-EU/EFTA family members don’t need a residence card. They can apply for one as it can be used to prove eligibility for work and benefits as well as making entering and exiting the UK easier.
To apply for a UK residence card, you will need to provide:
- a passport
- two passport-sized photographs
- your EU/EFTA family member’s valid passport or ID
- evidence of relationship to EU/EFTA family member
- proof that your EU/EFTA family member is a permanent resident or a ‘qualified person’
You will also need to visit a post office to submit your biometric information (digital photo and fingerprints).
Apply for British citizenship as an EU citizen
If you are a family member of an EU/EFTA citizen in the UK and you are from outside the EU/EFTA, you can apply for a permanent residence card that gives you the right to settle in the UK after 5 years. The cost is £65. You can apply for permanent residence online on the UK Visas and Immigration website (20) or you can download the application form and post to the address on the form. A copy of the application form can be found here. Guidance notes available here.
UK immigration policy: Retained rights of residence
If your relationship to an EU/EFTA family member changes, you can apply for UK residence cards and family permits under retained rights of residence. You may have a retained right of residence if:
- you, or a family member’s, marriage or civil partnership to that person has ended (divorce or annulment, whether abroad or not)
- that person has died and you have lived in the UK for at least one year before they died
- you’re the child of an EU/EFTA national (or their spouse/civil partner) who has died or left the UK, you were in education when they died/left the UK and are still in education
- you’re the parent and have custody of a child given retained rights of residence
More information on retained rights of residence here.
UK residence card: Derivative rights of residence
You can apply for a UK family permit or residence card if you have ‘derivative rights of residence’ as the:
- primary carer of an EU/EFTA child who is financially independent
- child of an EU/EFTA former worker and you’re currently in education in the UK, or primary carer of this child
- primary carer of a British child or dependent adult
- child of a primary carer who qualifies through one of these categories.
Surinder Singh applications
You might be able to apply for a UK family permit or residence card if you’ve lived in another EU/EFTA country with an eligible family member who is a UK citizen. This is known as a ‘Surinder Singh application’. Your British family member must be your spouse/civil partner or you must be dependent on a British family member who is your parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild. You must be aged under 21 if dependent on a parent or grandparent. You must prove that you have made a home together in another EU/EFTA country that is your main residence and that you have integrated there. The British family member must be either a permanent resident or qualified person in this country. More information can be found here.
For information on joining family members who are from outside the EU/EFTA, see our guide on joining a relative or partner in the UK here.
How to apply for British citizenship as an EU citizen
EU/EFTA citizens living in the UK automatically acquire permanent residence status after five years of residing in the UK as a ‘qualified person’ (through working, self-employment, studying, self-sufficiency or looking for work). You don’t need documentation to have permanent residence status but you can apply for it if you want to.
Permanent residents in the UK can apply for full UK citizenship after one year of permanent residence status, meaning that it is usually possible for EU/EFTA citizens living in the UK to apply for full UK citizenship after 6 years. UK citizenship is something that EU/EFTA citizens in the UK might give more consideration to following Brexit, when those who move to the UK won’t enjoy the full benefits of EU citizenship, although the cost of doing this is expensive (currently £1875).