EEA Rules: An Overview
The European Economic Area (EEA) is an association of 28 European countries that provides for the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Most EEA countries are EU members, and vice versa, but by no means all: see below for a full list of EEA countries.
An EEA national is permitted to live and work in the UK under the Free Movement of Persons Directive 2004/38/EC. EEA nationals are also permitted to bring non-EEA family members with them. Family members of British Citizens can only be included in certain circumstances (see Surinder Singh below).
To qualify for the Free Movement rights, an EEA National must be a qualified person, i.e. someone who is exercising Treaty Rights in the UK. Such a person must be one of the following: a worker, a student, a job seeker, self-employed, or self-sufficient. (In some categories, certain additional conditions must be met.)
Types of Permit
- Residence Permit: once the Non-EEA national is in the UK they can apply for a Residence Permit. They must continue to be the family member of either a qualified person or someone with Permanent Residency. This Residence Permit is valid for 5 years.
- Permanent Residency: following 5 years continuous residency many individuals will be eligible for Permanent Residency under the UK Immigration Rules. Further to this it is possible to apply for British Citizenship.
- EEA Family Permit: a Non-EEA national wishing to enter the UK as the family member of an EEA national must apply for an EEA Family Permit before entering the UK. This is valid for up to 6 months.
- Retained Rights of Residence: in certain circumstances such as relationship breakdown, it is possible to remain in the UK with a Retained Right of Residence.
A family member of an EEA national is either a direct or indirect family member.
A direct family member would be a spouse or civil partner, a dependant child or grandchild or a dependant parent or grandparent.
An indirect family member includes unmarried partners and extended relatives who are dependant on the EEA national or a member of their household.
When does EEA Free Movement law apply to the family of a British Citizen (Surinder Singh)?
Non-EEA family members can be eligible for Free Movement rights under the Surinder Singh principle. In order to be eligible, the British Citizen must have been exercising Treaty Rights in another EEA country prior to entering the UK.
They must be able to prove that during the time they were exercising Treaty Rights, they had moved the 'centre of their life' to the EEA country. The Non-EEA family member must have been resident with them during this time.
The following countries are in the EEA:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
Although Switzerland is not part of the EEA, Swiss nationals also have the same rights to Free Movement.