EEA nationals as well as their non-EEA family members have free movement rights guaranteed to them under the Free Movement of Citizens Directive 2004/38/EC, transposed into UK domestic law by The Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006 (as amended).
In practice, it means that any EEA national is able to enter the UK or any other EEA Member State if they produce a valid passport or national identity card issued by an EEA State. The EEA Member States are under an obligation to admit non-EEA family members accompanying or joining EEA nationals if they have a valid passport and an EEA family permit. In this context, "family member" means the spouse; partner; direct descendants under the age of 21 (and over 21 if dependent), or dependent direct relatives in the ascending line. The above legislation further affords the EEA nationals and their family members the right to reside in the UK for an initial period of three months.
However, following the first three-months period the EEA national could continue to reside in the UK with their family for as long as he/she remains a "qualified person". Strictly speaking there is no requirement for an EEA national or their family members to apply for any documentation to confirm their right of residence in the UK. However, in practical terms, non-EEA family members should consider applying for a Residence Permit to be able to confirm their lawful status in the UK. EEA nationals and their family members can also obtain a Registration Certificate from the Home Office if they wish to do so.
"Qualified person" is defined as one of the following:
- job seeker;
- self-employed person;
- self-sufficient person;
Often issues arise because EEA nationals are not aware that if they are a student or self-sufficient person, then in order to be a qualified person they are required additionally to have private comprehensive sickness insurance covering them and any accompanying family members.
This problem often arises at the point when the EEA national and their family members have already spent a considerable amount of time in the UK and are considering applying for permanent residence. At this stage the EEA national will be required to demonstrate that he has been a qualified person in the UK continuously for a period of 5 years and, in respect of their family members, that they continuously resided in the UK as family members of a qualified person for 5 years. If they cannot satisfy this requirement they are unable to achieve permanent residency and in turn, subsequently obtain British nationality.
Comprehensive sickness insurance may be any insurance that will cover the costs of the majority of medical treatment the person may receive in the UK. The policy does not have to cover every eventuality and may have exemptions. Naturally, comprehensive sickness insurance will not include access to NHS, travel insurance will also not be acceptable for this purpose. EEA nationals could provide a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by another member state or S1, S2 or S3 forms in confirmation of satisfaction of this requirement. However, EHIC will only be accepted by the Home Office if the EEA national lives in the UK on a temporary basis, for example, doing a year long study course at a UK university as part of the course abroad.
It is therefore vital to ensure that if an EEA national is a student or self-sufficient person in the UK, comprehensive sickness insurance is in place to cover them together with any family members.
Although Switzerland is not a member of a EU or EEA, Swiss nationals are afforded the same free movements rights as nationals of EEA countries.