On February 1st this month, a legal advice forum was held at The Danish Church. So, if you are an EU/EEA national living in the UK and worried about your rights and options post-Brexit, then tune in for the complete overview of the event below!

 

Text by Else Kvist Photo by Daniel O’Connor

 

After 25 years in the UK I thought I was a bit of a veteran. But not so!
Danes who arrived in the UK, long before the famous burgundy EU passports were rolled out, were among those who turned up for the Legal Advice Forum at The Danish Church, to seek advice on their rights post Brexit.
Some had brought along historic green passports with a stamp from a local police station – from back in the day when you had to register yourself in the UK.
Others held up old Home Office letters and light-blue coloured permanent residence cards, from before freedom of movement was introduced across the EU, to check if these are still valid.
Many also wanted to find out if they would qualify for permanent residency (PR) or might be better off waiting for the new ‘settled status’ to be introduced by the British government later this year.
According to the government, all EU citizens will now be required to apply for settled status, including those who have obtained PR, within a period lasting at least two-years, starting from March 29, 2019, when Britain plans to officially leave the EU.
People who arrive by 29 March 2019, but won’t have been living here for the five years required to gain settled status, can apply to stay until they have reached the threshold.

A panel of legal experts from UKCEN, a group initially set up on Facebook in the wake of the Brexit vote to respond to the demand for up-to-date practical support for EU citizens in the UK, were faced with a packed room at the event on February 1.
About half the audience were Danes, while the other half came from other EU countries. Some were newcomers while many had been here for decades.
The evening was organised by the team, who recently took the initiative to set up the ‘Åben Aften Café’ (Open Evening Café), which is now held on various Thursdays at the church. – A chance for Danes to meet on a casual basis and discuss topical issues.
The idea to bring in UKCEN came from Dorte Rich Jørgensen, a sustainability engineering consultant, who successfully applied for PR with the support of UKCEN.
She is now in the process of applying for dual citizenship (British and Danish).

To lighten up the atmosphere and distract from some of the emotions brought about for many by Brexit, Dorte held up a copy of ‘Life in Britain’ – The book needed to prepare for the British Citizenship Test, which everyone needs to sit to gain British citizenship.
“I’m enjoying reading this book so much. It’s so much fun and I find myself laughing out loud,” she confessed.
Reading aloud a questionnaire from the book she put this to the audience:
“Which of the following statements is correct?
* A. Rugby was introduced to ancient Britain by Viking invaders.
* B. Rugby originated in England in the early 19th century.

But it is not always so much fun. Members of the audience, who had been through the online application process, told of being confronted with a message, popping up on the screen, telling them that they might not be able to obtain permanent residency in the UK. – This can happen if you for example answer ‘no’ to having taken
out comprehensive sickness insurance as a student. But if this period falls outside your qualifying period then it is important to explain this in a covering letter accompanying your form, the lawyers explained.

Under EU rights for freedom of movement, EU citizens qualify for permanent residency (PR) in another EU country, as long we have been exercising treaty rights for five years.
To have exercised treaty rights we need have been one of the following:
• Workers
• Self-employed persons
• Self-sufficient persons with comprehensive sickness insurance
• Students with comprehensive sickness insurance

Tim McMahon, one of the lawyers on the panel, told us that it is common for people, who have been a carer without comprehensive sickness insurance or with gaps in the five- year qualifying period required to gain PR, to have their application turned down.
He said: “If there is something missing from the form then it can easily be refused.
Each application is allocated to a Home Office case worker and they can only base their information on what is on the form.”
But Tim explained that you can still apply successfully, even with short gaps during the five-year qualifying period, if you accompany your application with a covering letter explaining any gaps, such as periods where you have been unable to work or study. If this was for example due to illness, then this may be backed up with a letter from your GP or university.
The same goes for anyone self-employed, who have earned less than the expected amount (the expected amount is generally minimum around £8,000 per year, he said). -A covering letter could help explain how the applicant has been able to support him or herself financially, e.g. with the financial support of a partner.

The key thing is to choose a period of five years, your strongest years, according to the lawyers. - Then you need to look at what evidence you need to provide for that period.
“Do not submit your application until you have all the evidence, because once you have submitted it you will need to hand in your application in 10 days.
“Many boroughs have a European passport return service, so that you don’t need to hand your passport over. You bring them your application, and they copy your passport and give it back to you there and then. You do pay a fee for that,” they explained.

Tim predicts a big rush in applications and suggested it would be a good idea for those qualifying for PR to apply now, as the card can easily be exchanged for settled status later. He predicted that costs, promised to be no more than the cost of a passport, are only likely to go up.
However, his fellow lawyer on the panel, Tariq Nawaz, suggested that for those who have been here more than five years but still do not qualify, e.g. if they have been a stay-at-home parent or student without comprehensive sickness insurance, it might make more sense to wait for the introduction of settled status.
-As the need for comprehensive sickness insurance falls away. And as long as you have not committed a serious criminal offence, anyone should qualify after five years of living in the country, he said. The government has also promised a simplified process for applying for settled status.

There is no guarantee that EU citizens, even with PR or settled status, will continue to be able to vote in UK local elections – as this principle was introduced by the EU. And only British citizens can currently vote in national elections.

Even after obtaining PR, EU citizens risk losing their right to return to the UK after more than two years outside the country. With the new settled status being brought in that becomes five years. Hence there is no automatic right to return, whether or not you are married or in a civil partnership with a Brit or have a British child, once you leave the country for longer. Only citizenship (British passport) will ensure our right to return indefinitely. – Something many Danes wishing to return to Denmark will need to consider. It is also worth remembering that you still need to be resident in the UK to apply. And PR is now needed before you can go on to apply for citizenship.
Many Danes have also been concerned whether they would be able to bring their British partner to Denmark after Brexit or the planned transition period, when the UK will no longer be an EU member.
However, the Danish government have now proposed to replace the so-called ‘tilknytningskrav’ (affiliation requirement) for family reunification for spouses from outside the EU with new rules, requiring applicants to fulfil four out of six criteria instead.

For those who wish to go to apply for British citizenship it is worth bearing in mind that the whole process can take up to a year - up to six months to get a response to an application for PR and up to six months for settled status.
If you are married to a Brit or in a civil partnership, then you can apply for citizenship as soon as you have obtained your PR.
Otherwise you have to wait a year. However, it will not be necessary to wait a year if you are able to backdate your PR – i.e. using an earlier qualifying period.
More people are also reporting back that the process is often much quicker now.

Dorte said: “People need to remember that it takes time to read through all the guidelines and getting the evidence together, and preparing yourself for the citizenship test.”
But Dorte is keen to stress that the process of applying for PR has now been made much simpler. “It wasn’t as hard as I feared, although I needed some pointers from UKCEN,” she said.

You no longer need to list every journey in and out of the UK when applying for PR. But you still need to list every trip over five years when applying for citizenship.
The lawyers also pointed out that problems can arise, if you have been out of the country for more than 90 days in the last year or more than 450 days over the five years.
However, if it can be explained that the trips were work related, then this is again something that can be put in a covering letter to support your application.

Dorte said: “I think each person’s individual circumstances are different and there is no size fit all with regards to guidance.
“If you are not sure of something, then you can join the UKCEN Facebook group and post a question on their wall. You then get a response from qualified immigration lawyers, who all work as volunteers. – It’s just beautiful!”
Dorte said she just wanted to give them something back by organising this event for people who might not otherwise have access to legal advice.

The questions from the audience were many and varied. Some were also seeking advice about their children’s citizenship.
If none of the parents are British, a child born in the UK can earn his or her right to become a British citizen, if they have spent the first ten years of their life here, the lawyers explained.
However, as young people with dual (Danish & British) citizenship have to apply to keep their Danish citizenship by the age of 21, some of those with children hoping to study or work in Denmark, expressed concerns.

For those in the audience with an old stamp or document stating that they have already been granted ‘indefinite right to remain’, this is still valid, according to the lawyers. They were also told that this status would automatically qualify them for settled status.
Those who had temporary residence cards, which ran out without taking things further, will however not have secured indefinite right to remain.
Tim said: “The reality is though that whilst these stamps might still be valid, employers will in future want to see evidence of PR or settled status.
“Some EU citizens have already had their mortgage applications denied without a PR card.”

Visit https://www.gov.uk/eea-registration-certificate/permanent-residence for an online application for permanent residency.
More advice from UKCEN can be found on their website and Facebook page.
Donations to UKCEN can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ukcen-jcwi towards the voluntary work provided by their lawyers.

Free coffee and Danish pastries were kindly donated to the church by Ole & Steen (Lagkagehuset) for everyone, who turned out for the event.

Similar events/Legal Advice Forums will take place in Manchester on the 5th of March, in Cardiff on the 16th of April and in Edinburgh in May (date TBC). Please search on event brite to find details.

Please note that this article is meant as an insight and summary of the meeting, and not a guide. Please make sure to refer to government guidelines or seek individual legal advice when applying for PR/settled status or citizenship

 

For full blog of the writer, Else Kvist, please do opt in to her new blog >>

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