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Advice and Counselling Service

What happens if I spend some time outside the UK?

Please note the information on this page has been updated based on new government guidance issued on 10 June 2021 which changes the rules on permitted absences in relation to coronavirus.

  1. Your right to re-enter the UK

  2. Your eligibility to apply for Settled Status after 5 years

  3. Updated government guidance on Coronavirus concessions for the EU Settlement Scheme
  4. Your options if you have exceeded or will exceed the permitted absences

Time spent outside the UK could affect your future right to live in the UK in two different and important ways:

1. Your right to re-enter the UK

If you haven't applied to the EU Settlement Scheme

You can apply for pre-settled status while you are outside the UK if:

  • your proof of identity has an interoperable biometric chip, and
  • you have been resident in the UK at some point within the last 6 months and this was before 31 December 2020. The settlement scheme application form asks for a UK address, however you don't need this if you have proof of residence within the last 6 months. A university student status letter satisfies this requirement; or
  • you were previously resident and studying in the UK before 31 December 2020; and you have been outside the UK for between 6 and 12 months for an 'important reason' - this can include that you are studying outside the UK because of Coronavirus

But note how periods of absence from the UK will affect your right to later apply for settled status to stay indefinitely in the UK.

If you meet the criteria in the bullet points above, you could alternatively return to the UK before 30 June 2021 and make your application in the UK. 

If you return to live in the UK after 31 December 2020 to study on a course of more than six months you will need to apply for Student immigration permission before you travel.

If you already hold pre-settled status

Pre-settled status is valid for five years from the date it is granted. Once pre-settled status is obtained, within this five-year period it can only be lost where someone spends a period of two consecutive years or more outside the UK.

For example, someone who was granted pre-settled status in February 2020, who left in March 2020, could re-enter the UK up to February 2025, provided that they have not spent a period of two consecutive years outside the UK. Even if you are returning after 31 December 2020, in these circumstances you will not fall under the new immigration system.

However it is important that you understand the implications of absences from the UK on any future application for settled status. 

If you already hold settled status

After obtaining Settled Status you can spend up to 5 years outside the UK without losing your status, except Swiss nationals who can spend up to 4 years outside the UK.

2. Your eligibility to apply for settled status after 5 years

To be eligible for settled status, there needs to have been a continuous qualifying period of UK residence of 5 years. There are certain permitted absences which do not break someone's continuous qualifying period, and these are explained below.

Where there is an absence other than those permitted, the continuous qualifying period of residence will be broken. If you moved back to the UK by 31 December 2020 in order to restart your 5 year continuous qualifying period you need to be careful that your pre-settled status will not expire before you reach 5 years continuous qualifying period of residence. If so, you could reapply for Pre-settled status by 30 June 2021.

***IMPORTANT NOTE: The continuous qualifying period will not restart after 31 December 2020. This means someone who has pre-settled status and returns to the UK after 31 December 2020, having exceeded the permitted absences may be found ineligible for settled status. They will likely have to leave the UK when their pre-settled status comes to an end unless they can rely upon a different type of immigration permission*** 

Permitted absences

Less than six months in any 12 month period

If you have absences from the UK which are less than 6 months in any 12 month period you can still be considered as being continuously resident in the UK in order to qualify for settled status after 5 years. The Home Office guidance defines a month as “30 calendar days”, so 6 months would be 180 days, so the cumulative total of absences in any 12 month period must not exceed 180 days. You will not need to provide evidence of these absences.

The six-month cap is not limited to a single lengthy period outside the UK. It also applies to multiple trips totalling six months together. “In any 12-month period”, means the Home Office will not just be looking at travel during a calendar year. It instead considers a rolling period of 12 months which resets with every trip. The “rolling” concept means that where there are multiple trips, there are multiple 12-month periods and each and every 12-month period must be monitored to make sure absences in “any 12-month period” do not amount to more 6 months. If you travel regularly you need to note your absences so you can monitor the number of days you have been outside the UK.

The 3 million group have published an 'absence calculator' to help you to calculate your greatest total absence in any rolling 12-month period. You may wish to seek specialist advice if the calculator shows that you have exceeded 180 days absence in a 12 month period, and this is not an absence of up to 12 months for an important reason

One absence of up to 12 months for an important reason

A single period of absence of more than 6 months but which does not exceed 12 months is permitted, where this is for an important reason, and will not break your continuous qualifying period of residence. Important reasons include pregnancy, childbirth, serious illness, study. Evidence to support an absence as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or serious illness might take the form of a letter or other records from a qualified medical professional or evidence to support an absence as a result of study might take the form of a letter or other records from the relevant educational establishment. An absence of any length due to compulsory military service can be considered as continuous residence in the UK. 

On 16 Dec 2020 the EU Settlement Scheme guidance was updated to confirm that an absence for a student from the UK for up to 12 months due to Covid-19 does not break your continuous period of residence needed to qualify for Settled Status after five years. The EU Settlement Scheme guidance states:

If you are a student who was studying in the UK and are studying outside the UK because of coronavirus, that absence will not cause you to break your continuous qualifying period, where it is for a single period of more than 6 months but not more than 12 months, during your 5-year continuous qualifying period. 

You can rely on any coronavirus related reason (including where you chose to leave or remain outside the UK because of the pandemic) as being an ‘important reason’ permitting an absence of up to 12 months. There is more information on the gov.uk website.

It would be useful to retain evidence of your remote studies during this period. This could be, for example, the emails you have received from the Principal at Queen Mary confirming students can study remotely at this time or screenshots from the UK government web pages, or your own country’s government web pages (in English), confirming travel restrictions. 

 Absence exceeding 12 months

If you have been absent for an ‘important reason’ – whether because of coronavirus or for another important reason – but your absence has exceeded 12 months, you have exceeded the permitted absence. However the Home Office introduced a coronavirus concession on 10 June 2021, meaning that you can still apply to the EUSS where you can evidence that this extended absence is because coronavirus meant you were prevented from, or advised against, returning to the UK within 12 months and for a period thereafter. Please see the gov.uk website for examples of permitted reasons for your extended absence, as well as evidence required. This means that where, after an absence of 12 months for an ‘important reason’, coronavirus meant you were prevented from, or advised against, returning to the UK within 12 months, you will be treated as not having broken your continuous qualifying period of residence. 

The period of absence exceeding 12 months will not be counted towards your continuous qualifying period of residence under the EU Settlement Scheme. Your continuous qualifying period will be paused from the point your absence reached 12 months and will resume from the point you return to the UK.

Where you hold pre-settled status, and this is now due to expire before you can complete the continuous qualifying period of residence required for you to be eligible for settled status, you will be able to apply for a further grant of pre-settled status.

How many permitted absences from the UK can I have in the continuing qualifying 5 year period?

You could have multiple absences of less than 6 months, as long as your absences total less than 6 months in any 12 month period. 

You can only have a single period of absence of up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’. Where you have a second period of absence exceeding 6 months in any 12-month period for an ‘important reason’, you have exceeded the absence permitted under Appendix EU. However on 10 June 2021 the Home Office announced a concession to this rule, allowing you to rely on any coronavirus related reason (including where you chose to leave or remain outside the UK because of the pandemic) as the basis for requiring a second period of absence of up to 12 months for an ‘important reason’. In these circumstances, you will be treated as not having broken your continuous qualifying period of residence. However only up to the first 6 months of the second period of absence will be counted towards your continuous qualifying period of residence under the EU Settlement Scheme, where the period counted means you have not been absent for more than 6 months in any 12-month period. Your continuous qualifying period will be paused from that point and will resume from the point you return to the UK.Please see the government guidance for more information.

 Updated government guidance on Coronavirus concessions for the EU Settlement Scheme 10 June 2021

The UK government changed their published guidance about permitted absences for the EU Settlement Scheme on 10 June 2021. The new guidance introduced further exemptions for permitted absences, if these were a result of Covid-19. The new guidance may change any previous advice you received about permitted absences and eligibility for the EU Settlement Scheme. 

Important changes include: 

We also include information about these concessions in each of the relevant sections on this page. 

If these situations relate to you, check how you can show evidence that you meet one of the above requirements when you apply for Pre-settled or Settled Status: Examples of evidence to be provided

4. Your options if you have exceeded or will exceed the permitted absences

The following options may be available to you if you have been granted Pre-settled Status, but have exceeded the permitted absences detailed above:

  • Once you have been granted Pre-settled Status, you can spend up to 2 years outside the UK without losing your status. If you have exceeded the permitted absences described above, but have not been absent for more than 2 continuous years, you could return to the UK, and stay for the validity of your Pre-settled Status. You would need to leave the UK or apply for appropriate immigration permission in a relevant category before your Pre-settled Status expires.
  • If you exceeded the permitted absences and then re-established your residence in the UK before 31 December 2020, you could reapply for Pre-settled Status before the expiry date of your current Pre-settled Status. 5 years after you re-established residence, you would be eligible to apply for Settled Status, provided that you haven't exceeded the permitted absences again. 
  • If you don't have time to complete your course within the validity of your current Pre-settled Status, you would need to apply for the appropriate immigration permission to be able to stay in the UK. Student immigration permission is appropriate if you are in the UK for the purpose of studies. 
  • If you believe you have exceptional reasons for exceeding the permitted absences, you may still decide to try applying for Settled Status by asking for discretion and including evidence of why you exceeded the permitted absences. However the application may not be successful, because it would not meet the UK government's published rules and guidance. 

 

 

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