In June, the government published its proposals to safeguard the position of EU citizens living in the UK. AFF’s F&C Specialist, Katherine Houlston, looks at what this means for EU spouses of soldiers both in the UK and on overseas assignments…

EUROPEAN Union citizens already living in the UK will be treated identically to other foreign nationals.

You will be able to remain in the UK under EU law until Brexit and will then have a transition (grace) period of up to two years during which you will be expected to apply to remain under UK immigration rules.

What you will be able to apply for will depend on the length of time you have been in the UK:

Less than five years
You’re likely to be given some form of limited leave to remain, which you will stay on until you have lived in the UK for five years.

More than five years
You’re eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

What will it cost?
It’s not yet been decided. The proposals simply say that the fee will be set at ‘a reasonable level’. Given that the current cost of £2,297 for an ILR application for non-EU nationals is considered to be unreasonable by many, it’s difficult to predict what the cost will eventually be.

If I am eligible, should I apply for permanent residency (PR) now?
After Brexit, PR status will no longer be accepted as a means of remaining in the UK so there is no point in applying for this now unless you also intend to apply for citizenship prior to Brexit. To apply for citizenship now you will need PR; to apply for citizenship post-Brexit you will need ILR. If you’re eligible, this could be a cheaper route than waiting until after Brexit – a PR application is £65, compared to £2,297 for ILR.

What about comprehensive sickness insurance?
There has been lots of confusion about this. In order to apply for PR, you have to provide evidence that you have had comprehensive sickness insurance for the past five years – a requirement which many EU nationals were not aware of. The new proposals make it clear that it will not be necessary to have had this insurance in order to qualify for settled status after Brexit. This at least is good news.

What if I have been/am on an overseas assignment?
We are waiting for further information about this. It would be a clear disadvantage under the terms of the Armed Forces Covenant to suggest that an EU spouse or child who has accompanied a soldier on an overseas assignment would not be eligible for ILR because they had not spent five years in the UK. The Armed Forces immigration rules for Commonwealth families allow for time spent overseas to count as residence in the UK, so it would be logical to presume that the government will allow the same discretion for military EU families.

What is AFF doing?
AFF’s Chief Executive, Sara Baade (who is herself an EU citizen – see below) and I met with the Home Office to discuss the impact of Brexit. We have asked that special consideration is given to EU spouses of soldiers and will ensure that this issue is kept on the table whilst the government develops the new rules.

What’s next?
It’s important to remember that these proposals are subject to change during the negotiations. Until Brexit is complete, there is no change to the status of EU nationals in the UK. To keep up-to-date, visit the AFF website.

AFF Chief Executive Sara Baade is a Swedish national. She recently applied for PR.

“When Brexit was announced, I felt like a foreigner for the first time. It was an emotional period, but I had to begin the practical process of applying for PR.

“I’ve worked here for 17 years, my children are British, my late husband was a British soldier and I have private health insurance, so I never saw the need to have a British passport. Now, I feel I need more certainty. It’s a complicated process so I’m pleased to have help from Katherine, and in turn she will be able to pass on her expertise to other EU families.

“From AFF’s point of view, there are many loopholes and we will champion the needs of EU Army families as a priority.”

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