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Check if you can get a permanent right to reside in the UK as an EEA national

This advice applies to Wales

To claim benefits like Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit, you have to pass the habitual residence test. This means that you:

  • have a legal right to live in the UK and claim benefits - this is called right to reside
  • intend to make your home for the time being in the UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands or the Republic of Ireland - this is known as habitual residence

European Economic Area (EEA) countries include all those in the EU plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Check which countries are members of the European Union.

If you've been living in the UK for at least five years, you might have a permanent right to reside. This means when you apply for benefits, you won't have to pass the habitual residence test.

You can only lose a permanent right to reside if you:

  • leave the UK for two or more years in a row
  • commit a serious crime
  • are a security risk

Getting advice

Showing your right to reside and intention to settle in the UK can be difficult and complex. If you're unsure about anything get help from your local Citizens Advice.

Getting a permanent right to reside

To get a permanent right to reside you must have been legally resident in the UK for a continuous period of at least 5 years. During those 5 years you must have had a 'right to reside'.

Most EEA nationals had a right to reside when they were:

  • a job-seeker
  • a worker
  • self-employed
  • a former worker who kept their worker status
  • a student who was self-sufficient
  • self-sufficient and supporting themselves financially

There are different rules for some people:

If you're from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia or Slovenia

These countries are called the ‘A8 countries’. People from A8 countries are called ‘A8 nationals’.

If you’re an A8 national, until 1 May 2011 there were special rules about your right to reside. Unless you were exempt, you only had a right to reside if you were:

  • working for an authorised employer in a job which was registered with the Workers Registration Scheme

  • self-employed

  • self-sufficient

  • a student who was self-sufficient

If you applied for registration within a month of starting work, your work counts as registered from the date you started the job. Otherwise, your work will be registered from the date on the registration certificate.

From 1 May 2011, the special rules no longer applied. From this date you have the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

Your right to reside between 2009 and 2011

The Department for Work and Pensions will treat you as if the special rules ended on 30 April 2011.

You can argue that the rules ended earlier, on 30 April 2009. This might help if your 5 years includes time between 2009 and 2011 when you:

  • were looking for work

  • were doing work that wasn’t registered

  • had stopped working

This is a complicated area of law, so contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help making this argument.

Check if you were exempt from the special rules

The special rules didn’t apply to you if you:

  • had completed 12 months' registered employment with fewer than 30 days of non-working time within that period

  • had permission to enter or remain in the UK on 30 April 2004 and there were no limits on what work you did

  • were already working legally in the UK on 30 April 2004 and had been doing so for a year without a break of more than 30 days

  • were posted to work in the UK by your employer

  • had dual nationality and were also a national of the UK, Switzerland or a non-A8, EEA country

  • were the spouse, civil partner or child under 18 of a person who has leave to enter or remain in the UK which allows that person to work

If the special rules didn’t apply, you had the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

If you’re from Bulgaria or Romania

These countries are called the ‘A2 countries’. People from A2 countries are called ‘A2 nationals’.

If you’re an A2 national, until 1 January 2014 there were special rules about your right to reside. Unless you were exempt, you only had a right to reside if you were:

  • working in ‘authorised employment’ which was registered with the Workers Authorisation Scheme

  • self-employed

  • self-sufficient

  • a student who was self-sufficient

To work in authorised employment, you normally had to get permission from the Home Office before you started working.

From 1 January 2014, the special rules no longer applied. From this date you have the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

Check if you were exempt from the special rules

The special rules didn’t apply to you if you:

  • had completed 12 months' authorised employment with fewer than 30 days of non-working time within that period

  • had permission to enter or remain in the UK on 31 December 2006 and there were no limits on what work you did

  • were already working legally in the UK on 31 December 2006 and had been doing so for a year without a break of more than 30 days

  • were posted to work in the UK by your employer

  • had dual nationality and were also a national of the UK, Switzerland or a non-A2, EEA country

  • were the spouse, civil partner or child under 18 of a person who had leave to enter or remain in the UK which allows that person to work

If the special rules didn’t apply, you had the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

If you’re from Croatia

If you’re a Croatian national, until 1 July 2018 there were special rules about your right to reside. Unless you were exempt, you only had a right to reside if you were:

  • working in ‘authorised employment’ which was registered with the Workers Authorisation Scheme

  • self-employed

  • self-sufficient

  • a student who was self-sufficient

To work in authorised employment, you normally had to get permission from the Home Office before you started working.

From 1 July 2018, the special rules no longer applied. From this date you have the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

Check if you were exempt from the special rules

The special rules didn’t apply to you if you:

  • had completed 12 months' registered employment with fewer than 30 days of non-working time within that period

  • had permission to enter or remain in the UK on 30 June 2013 and there were no limits on what work you did

  • were already working legally in the UK on 30 June 2013 and had been doing so for a year without a break of more than 30 days

  • are the partner of a UK national

  • are highly skilled and have a certificate allowing you unconditional access to the UK jobs market

  • are a student with a certificate allowing you to work up to 20 hours a week in term-time and full time during vacations.

If the special rules didn’t apply, you had the same rights to reside as other EEA nationals.

If you’re the family member of an EEA national

If you’re the family member of an EEA national, you automatically had a right to reside when they did. It doesn’t matter if you’re an EEA national yourself or not.

Check who counts as a family member.

If you were out of the country for part of the 5 years

Some temporary absences from the country won't affect your claim for a permanent right to reside. These include:

  • absences of up to six months in a year
  • one absence of up to twelve months for very important reasons - such as pregnancy or childbirth, serious illness or employment postings abroad
  • compulsory military service

If you've been in prison, that time won't count towards your 5 years of residence.

Applying for a permanent residence document

It's worth applying for a permanent residence document - you'll be able to use it as evidence if you need to claim benefits. It costs £65 to apply.

You can find out how to apply for a permanent residence document at GOV.UK.

If you don't have a permanent right to reside

You might still have the right to reside - this means you'll be able to claim benefits.

Check if you have the right to reside to claim benefits.

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