Brexit - immigration

Last modified: 08 January 2021

Brexit is the term used to describe the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union (EU). How Brexit impacts you will depend on when you come/came to the UK.

The UK left the EU at 11pm (GMT) on 31 January 2020 on the basis of an agreement made between the UK and the EU  known as the Withdrawal Agreement. The UK made separate agreements with the EEA EFTA states (Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein) and Switzerland.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 contains all the provisions of these agreements including an agreement on citizens' rights during the 'transition period'. The transition period was a period of time (which started as soon as the UK left the EU and continued until  11pm GMT on 31 December 2020). During this time EU, EEA and Swiss citizens could still come to and remain in, the UK on the same basis as before the UK left the EU (in line with European law).

You will need to apply for immigration permission by certain deadlines if you:

  • were in the UK by 11pm on 31 December 2020 (including allowed absences - see Brexit EU Settlement Scheme) and intending to stay beyond 31 December 2020 (but see information below about the 'grace period'); or   
  • coming to the UK from 1 January 2021

Immigration permission for those in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens in the UK before the end of the transition period (11pm on 31 December 2020) and their eligible family members can, if eligible, apply for immigration permission in the UK under the UK government’s EU Settlement Scheme. Anyone who is eligible under the scheme and wishes to remain in the UK beyond the end of the 'grace period' (see below) will need to apply under the scheme or will need apply for immigration permission under another category of the immigration Rules. 

Immigration permission for those intending to come to the UK from 11pm on 31 December 2020

The UK government has introduced a new immigration system to coincide with the end of the transition period. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who do not have permission, or do not qualify for permission, under the EU Settlement Scheme, instead need to check the requirements of the immigration category in which they wish to come to the UK. If this applies to you, you need to check these requirements some time before you plan to come to the UK as most immigration categories will require that you get immigration permission before you come to the UK (although not if you are coming as a visitor).

The new Student route opened at 9 a.m. on 5 October 2020 for applications made outside the UK only from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens coming to the UK from 1 January 2021 to study a course which meets the requirements of the route. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will only be able to make an immigration application as a Student from inside the UK from 11pm on 31 December 2020. See the information from the UK government about applying under the new student route.

See our information about the new visitor and new short-term student routes.

The grace period

The time between the end of the transition period (11pm 31 December 2020) and the EU settlement scheme application deadline (30 June 2021) is called the ‘grace period’. There are UK regulations, which become law from 11pm on 31 December 2020, to deal with those who are eligible to apply under the EU settlement Scheme, but don’t have permission under the scheme during this period. 

During the grace period you are considered to be lawfully residing in the UK if you were in the UK before the end of the transition period in accordance with current EU laws as implemented by the UK (The  EEA Regulations). This includes any temporary absences permitted by these Regulations. To be in the UK in accordance with the EEA Regulations you need to be ‘exercising a right to reside’ (be a ‘qualified person’). Therefore, if you are/have been in the UK for longer than three months and only as a student (ie not also as a worker), you need to have comprehensive sickness insurance.  

Travel documents for travel to the UK after the end of the transition period

See the Home Office information about travel documents which can and can't be used to travel to the UK 

Other documents for EU, EEA and Swiss re-entering the UK after 11pm on 31 December 2020, who are eligible for, but haven't applied under, the EU Settlement Scheme

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who is eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme in your own right (not as a family member) and are re-entering the UK after 11pm on 31 December 2020 before you have applied under the scheme or before you have received a decision on your application, it is advisable to carry evidence in your hand luggage to show that you were living in the UK before the end of the transition period. This is just in case you are asked to demonstrate your eligibility to apply under the scheme on your return to the UK. Examples of the type of evidence that the Home Office are likely to accept is contained in pages 178 - 180 of the EU Settlement Scheme: EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members guidance. It is advisable to have evidence from the 'preferred list', if possible. Eligible family members (EEA or non-EEA) coming from 11pm on 31 December 2020 need to get permission before they arrive in the UK. See the Citizens Advice Bureau for more information about eligible family members.  


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