Nationals of all the EEA countries (ie the EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and of Switzerland have free movement rights under European law. This means that they can enter the UK without restriction and it also means that they can remain in the UK in the longer term if they are exercising EC Treaty rights.
There are different ways in which EC Treaty rights can be exercised: by working, by studying, by being financially self-sufficient or by job-seeking. “Working” is defined very broadly: it could be work in employment or self-employment and it could be part-time or full-time. “Financially self-sufficient” is also broadly defined: it covers any kind of situation where a person has sufficient money coming in to support them to a basic standard, for example from a pension, from investments, or being reliably supported by somebody, for example their partner.
Students and financially self-sufficient people have an additional requirement that other categories do not have: they must hold comprehensive health insurance – and this cannot be met by access to the NHS, despite the fact that EEA nationals are entitled to it.
Family members of EEA nationals may also have rights under European law. “Family members” in this context includes spouse/civil partner, unmarried partner, parents, grandparents and children under the age of 21.
Family members who are also EEA nationals will of course have few problems in entering or remaining in the UK, but family members from countries outside the EEA (“third countries”) may also be able to obtain European visas.
If a third-country family member is living outside the UK they may be able to apply for an EEA Family Permit to come to the UK with their EEA family member or join their EEA family member if they are already in the UK exercising Treaty rights. This visa is granted for six months.
A third-country family member who is already in the UK may be able to apply for an EEA Residence Card so they can stay in the UK on the basis of their EEA family member being in the UK and exercising Treaty rights. This visa is granted for five years. So, for example, a family member who holds an EEA Family Permit could apply to switch to an EEA Residence Card or, for example, a family member who holds a visa granted under the UK Immigration Rules could apply to switch to an EEA Residence Card.
An EEA national or family member of an EEA national may be able apply for Permanent Residence (ie settlement) once they have been in the UK for five years. However, with the UK likely to leave the EU in 2019, this route to settlement may not be available after this time.
EEA Registration Certificate
An EEA Registration Certificate is a document that can be applied for by an EEA national, which proves that they currently have to right to be in the UK because they are exercising EC Treaty rights.
Retained rights of residence
A migrant can apply for a retained right of residence in the UK if, for example, they were living with their EEA family member in the UK but their EEA family member has died or their marriage/civil partnership has been dissolved.
There are other various rights and possibilities in connection with European free movement law but these are the most common ones.