Theresa May still says that Article 50 will be triggered before the end of March. If that happens, the UK will be out of the EU by April 2019. It’s looking increasingly likely that it’s going to be a hard Brexit or even a chaotic Brexit. In those scenarios, sooner or later the UK will end free movement for EU citizens. French people who have made the UK their home want to know what to do.

How can I confirm my right of residence in the UK?

At the moment, French citizens and other EU citizens living in the UK aren’t required to apply for an official document confirming their status. But, because of the uncertainty about what will happen after Brexit, it’s a good idea to apply to the Home Office for a document now in case you ever have to prove your status in future.

If you have lived in the UK for less than five years and you are employed, self-employed, studying or self-sufficient, you and your family members can apply for a registration certificate.

If you have completed a continuous period of five years in the UK as someone who is employed, self-employed, studying or self-sufficient you can apply for a document certifying permanent residence. Absences from the UK of up to six months per year do not break this continuous period. An absence of up to 12 months is allowed for important reasons such as pregnancy or childbirth, serious illness, study or an overseas posting. The date on which you completed the five-year period doesn't matter as long as you have not been outside the UK for a period of more than two years after completing the five-year period.

These documents don’t confer any rights but you can use them to show that the Home Office has recognised your right of residence under European law.

Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for these documents – especially students and self-sufficient people who don’t have private health insurance.

What’s the point of getting a document?

The British government has said that it expects to allow EU citizens already living in the UK to stay after Brexit – provided that the EU does the same for British citizens living in other EU countries.

The problem is that immediately after Brexit it will be hard for immigration officers, employers and others to tell the difference between EU citizens who already living in the UK and those who have just arrived.

You won’t want to have carry around several years’ worth of tax returns and Council Tax bills to be allowed back into the UK after every overseas trip. If you have already obtained a document from the Home Office, your life is likely to be easier after Brexit.

How do I apply?

There’s an infamous 85-page form to fill in and a lot of supporting documents to provide. You’ll need to show evidence of what you have been doing in the UK, evidence that you have been living here, and a travel history showing all your absences from the UK since the start of the five-year qualifying period.

An online application form is being rolled out for certain types of applications, but if you use this you still have to send in all the supporting documents. You have to enclose your passport or identity card unless you use a local authority European passport return service.

The whole process takes up to six months.

Should I become British?

If you want to completely ensure that you are able to stay in the UK after Brexit, you can apply to become a British citizen after you have held permanent residence for one year.

You have to get a document certifying permanent residence before applying for British citizenship, but you don’t necessarily have to wait a year after getting the document.

If you’re thinking of applying for British citizenship, you should provide evidence that you completed the five-year qualifying period more than one year ago when you apply for permanent residence. If you do that, the Home Office will backdate the date when it deems you to have acquired permanent residence, so you can potentially apply for British citizenship as soon as you have your document certifying permanent residence.

What about my children?

If you have children born in the UK, they may already be British citizens. Children born in the UK on or after 30 April 2006 are automatically British if at least one of their parents completed the five-year qualifying period for permanent residence before they were born.

If you complete the five-year period after they are born, you can apply to register them as British.

There are different rules for children born before 30 April 2006, and different rules again for children born before 2 October 2000.

I’m going to wait and see what happens

You’re not alone. If you’re optimistic that the UK will do the decent thing, you could wait to see if the process will be made simpler over the next couple of years. It’s clear that something will have to change if the system isn’t to collapse. In the meantime, you would be wise to collect evidence of your activities and residence in the UK, just in case.

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