The Home Office updated its good character policy for naturalisation which means some categories of EU nationals will find it harder to become British citizens. 

Under the new policy, the period of time during which certain EU citizens in the UK must have held comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI) or a European health insurance card (EHIC) in order to qualify for citizenship, rises from five years to ten years.

The following must be taken into consideration:

  • This policy only affects applicants for British citizenship. 
  • This generally only affects European applicants who have been students or self-sufficient in the UK in the ten years preceding their application for British citizenship.
  • Employed and self-employed workers are not required to hold CSI or an EHIC under this policy as before.
  • Family members of workers are not required to hold CSI or an EHIC either.
  • If a person moved to the UK less than ten years ago, he/she does not need to satisfy the ten-year residence requirement. Instead, the caseworker will only consider his/her period of UK residence back to the date of their arrival in the UK. 
  • The new guidance does not say that everyone who does not have CSI will be refused citizenship. Equally it does not say they will be granted one either. 
  • If a person is affected by this issue, there is nothing stopping them from applying and asking for a caseworker’s discretion. However, If the application is refused the applicant will lose their application fee of £1,349.20 (of which only the £80 citizenship ceremony element will be refunded). However, please note that a refusal does not mean that a person is not able to apply again in the future.

What is meant by a “good character” policy?

In line with a mandatory requirement set out in Schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981 persons over the age of ten who apply for naturalisation as a British citizen need to be “of good character”. When the Home Office deems someone not to be “of good character” then his or her application for citizenship will be refused.

According to the governmental policy, one of the reasons for refusing citizenship on character grounds is “non-compliance with immigration requirements”. The Home Office has concluded that EU students or self-sufficient people who did not have CSI or an EHIC during the 10 year period in question are not compliant with immigration requirements.

How does the new policy differ from the previous one?

The updated good character policy says:

In assessing whether a person has complied with immigration requirements over the previous 10 years, you [ie the Home Office decision-maker] must take into account whether they were subject to the EEA Regulations 2016 or the Immigration Act 1971 and whether they complied with the relevant requirements.

The Home Office will examine a European applicant’s status over the last 10 years leading up to their citizenship application to ensure that they were lawfully resident during the whole period.

It is important to note that a grant of settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme does not absolve you from the need to satisfy policy’s requirements:

To qualify for indefinite leave to remain [aka settled status] under the EUSS, an EEA national or their family member must have been resident in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years. However, a grant of ILR under the EUSS does not confirm that the person has complied with immigration requirements during that time, as this is not a requirement of the EUSS.

And specifically on CSI:

Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI) is a legal requirement for EEA and Swiss students, self-sufficient persons and their family members who are residing in the UK with them. If a person did not have CSI, you must consider why they did not have it. Where a person has been granted ILR under the EUSS but has been in breach of the EEA Regulations 2016 due to a lack of CSI you must consider whether it is appropriate to exercise discretion in their favour. Some applicants will have previously been refused permanent residence on the basis of not having CSI. When considering whether it is appropriate to exercise discretion, you must assess the reasons given for this, and why they did not then obtain CSI.

What does this mean in practice?

EU nationals applying for British citizenship will be specifically asked about their residence in the UK in the ten years prior to their application. There will be questions in their application form about this.

Caseworkers must then decide if the applicant ought to have held CSI or an EHIC, and if so, whether they did. If they did not, the caseworker must consider if it is nevertheless appropriate to use their discretion to grant the application anyway.

If EU nationals in the past ten years have been students or self-sufficient in the UK without CSI or an EHIC, they could see their naturalisation application refused.

Astons is a leading global property and immigration advisory firm with offices in London, Istanbul, Dubai and Limassol (Republic of Cyprus) and offers residency & citizenship investment solutions worldwide including the UK, Turkey, Vanuatu, the EU and the Caribbean

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