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The rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and their family members to enter and live in the UK are set out in European law. This is often referred to as ‘free movement law’, or having a ‘right to reside’, or exercising 'treaty rights’.
The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. European law, including free movement rights, continues to apply in the UK throughout the transition period, which will end on 31 December 2020. After the transition period ends, the rights of EEA nationals and their family members to enter and live in the UK will be set out in the UK’s Immigration Rules, which currently apply to people who are non-EEA nationals.
The UK Government has committed to provide EEA nationals, who are living in the UK by the end of the transition period, with residence rights to remain in the UK after free movement ends. EEA nationals and their family members will need to apply for leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme. Depending on how long the person has been living in the UK, they may be granted settled status (indefinite leave to remain) or pre-settled status (five years’ limited leave to remain). Applications must be made by 30 June 2021. A person who has pre-settled status will be able to apply for settled status after five years residence in the UK. The EU Settlement Scheme is currently operating in parallel to free movement law, so a person may have a European right to reside in the UK as well as holding settled or pre-settled status granted under the EU Settlement Scheme.
EEA nationals and their family members (including those who are non-EEA nationals) can work in the UK and can claim benefits and housing assistance when they meet the relevant eligibility requirements. These rules are complex and benefit decision makers may need to make extensive enquiries into the person's circumstances.
The basic principles of the benefit eligibility rules, as they apply to EEA nationals, can be summarised as follows:
The EEA is made up of all European Union (EU) member states, plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is not in the EU or EEA but due to bilateral agreements, its citizens benefit from free movement rights. Swiss nationals are usually included when the term 'EEA national' is used to refer to a person's immigration position in the UK.
Full list of EEA countries:
Resident in a country/ area for an ‘appreciable period’ (usually of one to three months but can be shorter), with the intention to settle.