EU/EEA/Swiss students – potential impact of extended absence from UK

EU/EEA/Swiss students – potential impact of extended absence from UK

*This blog post is correct at the time of writing. For the most up-to-date information, please check our web pages which will be updated in line with changes and updates from the UK government*

The information in this post is relevant to nationals of EU countries (excluding the Republic of Ireland), Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland who were resident in the UK before 31 December 2020 and are currently absent from the UK.

We are aware that many students left the UK in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, so you may now be approaching 12 months outside the UK. The UK government confirmed in December 2020 that an absence of more than 6 months but less than 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. 

We have detailed guidance on our web pages about how absences from the UK might affect your eligibility to re-enter or stay in the UK long-term, and we recommend that you read this information carefully.

However, it may be that, because of travel restrictions and health concerns about travelling to the UK at the moment, you think you might be outside the UK for more than 12 months. So, what is the situation at the moment, and are there any options available to you?

  • Firstly, if you have not yet applied for Pre-settled (or Settled) Status, then you should do so now. As long as you were previously resident in the UK (before 31 December 2020) and any absences from the UK fit into the permitted absences, you are eligible to apply outside the UK.
  • If you have already been granted Pre-settled Status, and are sure that you do not wish to stay in the UK long-term, you can spend up to 2 years outside the UK without losing your Pre-settled Status. You would not then be able to apply for Settled Status
  • If you hold 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.
  • If travel restrictions allow, and you feel comfortable doing so, you could return to the UK before you have been absent for 12 months. You would need to stay in the UK for a minimum of one day (although check the UK government’s self-isolation requirements in place at the time that you travel, the current requirements would require you to stay in the UK for the duration of your period of self-isolation). You would then be permitted to spend up to the following 6 months minus one day outside the UK. You must ensure that you have spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 month rolling period (excluding the single period of 6-12 month absence for an ‘important reason’). For example, if you return to the UK for 10 days and then leave for 6 months minus one day, the following 6 months must be spent in the UK without a further single day’s absence from the UK during this time.
  • Under the UK government’s current rules and guidance, you would not meet the requirements to later apply for Settled Status if you spend more than 12 months outside the UK. If the travel restrictions don’t allow you return to the UK within 12 months of leaving, you should keep evidence of being unable to return to the UK at this time. This could include, for example, confirmation that your flight to the UK has been cancelled and screenshots from the UK government website or your home country’s website (in English) that international travel is not permitted. The UK government explains the rules about international travel during the national lockdown in England on its web pages. If a concession is not agreed by the UK government to allow an absence of more than 12 months at this time, and you still wish to apply for Settled Status later, you can include this evidence to try to make a case when you apply for Settled Status later as to why you exceeded the 12 month absence in these exceptional circumstances. We do not know how the Home Office will treat this request.

We, and other universities, are currently requesting that the UK government allows an absence of more than 12 months for students at this time, due to the exceptional circumstances and the risks of travelling, without this affecting their Continuous Qualifying Period for Settled Status later. We understand this is being considered but we do not know if it will be agreed, so it cannot be relied on. We will update our web pages as soon as the UK government responds to this request.