The Covid-19 pandemic, has resulted in many European staff working remotely outside the UK, and they should be aware of the following:
If you have already been granted Settled status, you can remain outside the UK for up to 5 years without affecting your status. Returning to the UK, even for one day, during a five year period of absence will mean that you won’t lose your settled status and it will reset the clock for another 5 years.
If you hold Pre-Settled status, you can remain outside the UK for up to 2 years without your Pre-Settled status being cancelled BUT if your absence outside the UK is more than 6 months in any 12 month period (or 12 months for an 'important reason', such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, study or vocational training or an overseas work posting) it will break your continuity of residence. While you could remain in the UK for the five years, a long absence might mean that you do not qualify for Settled status at the end of that time. You might then have to apply for a UK work visa (at significant expense) instead.
Absences due to Covid-19
Originally, Home Office guidance took a strict position that periods outside the UK due to Covid-19 would only be seen as an 'important reason' for a longer absence if were ill with Covid-19, were self-isolating, or physically could not return to the UK due to travel restrictions. This meant that if you could have returned to the UK, but chose not to, this would be counted the same as any other absence and could cause you to exceed the limit and break your continuous residence for Settled status.
Thankfully, new much more flexible Home Office guidance includes a much wider range of circumstances which may be seen as an 'important reason' for a longer absence which would not break your continuous residence for Settled status. Now in addition to your having been ill with Covid-19, self-isolating, or unable to travel, other examples include where you were:
- caring for a family member affected by Covid-19
- advised by your university that, due to Covid-19, your course was moved to remote learning and you were advised or allowed to return to your home country
- advised by your university or employer not to return to the UK, and to continue studying or working remotely
- absent from the UK for another reason relating to Covid-19, for example:
- you left or remained outside the UK because there were fewer coronavirus restrictions elsewhere,
- you preferred to work or run a business from home overseas, or
- you would have been unemployed in the UK and preferred to rely on support from family or friends overseas
It may now also be possible to have two absences of over six, up to twelve, months if one of these was due to Covid-19.
If you are applying for Settled status and are relying on these issues linked to Covid-19 being an 'important reason' for a longer permitted absence you will need to provide additional evidence with your application to show the length of, and reason for, these absences linked to Covid-19. This is also discussed in the new more flexible Home Office guidance.
As you may not be applying for Settled status until some time in the future we would recommend considering, collating, and retaining documents to serve as evidence of any longer absences due to Covid-19, as this may be difficult to find later if they are not obtained at the time.
If you have any concerns as to your status in the UK now or your eligibility for Settled status, please contact either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com in the Staff Immigration Team or obtain legal advice, to ensure the duration of absences outside UK will not affect your continued rights to stay in the UK without having to obtain a UK work visa.
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