Brexit: Impact on children of EU Citizens living in the UK

Brexit will affect the lives of EU citizens and their children. Parents, legal guardians and those with any responsibility for a child/children may need to take action to ensure they secure the rights of those children in the UK.

This page provides general guidance on this issue. If, after reading the information below, you think the standard rules do not apply in your particular case, please contact the Home Office’s EU Settlement Resolution Centre or find an immigration adviser.


According to The Migration Observatory, there are over 900,000 children of non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK. 

In many cases, parents, carers or legal guardians may not know that these children can and need to apply. This includes 239,000 children born in the UK, many of whom may not be British citizens.

The Windrush scandal demonstrates the significant risks posed to individuals lawfully resident in the UK, but without the evidence to secure and prove their status. While EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their children should not fear falling foul of ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies, they should be aware of the importance of taking appropriate action to secure their rights.

In a no-deal scenario, applications must be made under the EU Settlement Scheme by 31 December 2020. If a deal is agreed, applications must be made by 30 June 2021

Any EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who has not applied under the scheme by that point – and does not have alternative legal status (e.g. British citizenship) – may be considered unlawfully resident in the UK. The Government has confirmed that the Home Office could then take enforcement action, including deportation.


Applying under the EU Settlement Scheme

Who can make an application?

A parent, carer and/or legal guardian can make an application on their child’s behalf, or the child can apply themselves.

Other adults may be responsible for a child, or aware of the child’s circumstances. While they may not be able to make an application on a child’s behalf, they should be aware of the action that needs to be taken to secure the child’s rights.

In such circumstances, it may be useful to contact an immigration adviser.

Which children are eligible to apply?

Children, or their parent/guardian, can apply if:

  • • The child is an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen;
  • • If the parent or guardian – or their spouse or civil partner – is an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen

Children who hold British or Irish citizenship do not need to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. However, it is important not to assume that children born in the UK or Ireland automatically hold citizenship of that country (for further details, please see below).

What are "linked" applications?

If the parent or legal guardian has made an application under the EU Settlement Scheme themselves, they will be able to ‘link’ their child’s application to this. 

This can be done at any time after the parent or guardian’s application is submitted, i.e. upon receipt of their application number – they do not need to wait for a decision.

If a parent or guardian is eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme but is yet to do so, it may be easier to make their own application first before applying for the child/children they are responsible for.

Under a linked application, children will receive the same status as their parent or guardian. For this reason, it is especially important for parents or legal guardians to ensure that their status matches their expectations (e.g. if they believe they have been continuously resident for at least five years, they should not accept pre-settled status; they should supply further evidence to ensure they are granted the correct status).

How many applications can be linked?

Parents or guardians can link applications for all of the children they are legally responsible for, who are eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. However, each application must be individually linked.

What evidence will parents or guardians need to provide when linking applications?

Firstly, and most importantly, parents or guardians will need to provide their own application number. They may need to use their own email address if their child does not have one.

Parents or guardians will need to provide proof of their relationship to the child/children on whose behalf they are applying.

Legal guardians will be required to provide official evidence proving their legal relationship with the child/children they are applying for/with.

Parents or guardians will not need to provide proof of their child’s residence in the UK when linking applications. However, the Home Office may subsequently ask for proof of residence before making a decision.

Examples of evidence include:

  • • A letter from the child’s school, including term dates
  • • A letter from the child’s GP
  • • Evidence of the parents’ or guardians’ residence in the UK, such as annual bank statements or a council tax bill

Read the Government's guidance on additional evidence, or find an immigration adviser.

What if a parent does not apply under the EU Settlement Scheme?

If parents or guardians are eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, they should consider doing so to not risk becoming unlawfully resident. However, the children they are responsible for can also apply independently. 

What evidence must be provided if a child is applying independently?

Where a child’s application is not linked to a parent or guardian’s, such as for children in care, evidence of the child’s five years’ continuous residence in the UK will need to be submitted to prove they are eligible for settled status. In this case, the same rules apply for children as they do for adults. 

What if a child applying independently does not have five years' continuous residence?

If a child does not have five years’ continuous residence when they apply, they will likely receive pre-settled status. Assuming the UK leaves the EU with a deal, the child must have been living in the UK by 31 December 2020 to be eligible for pre-settled status. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the child must have been living in the UK before the UK leaves the EU.

How long does a child's pre-settled status last?

A child can stay in the UK for a further five years from the date they are granted pre-settled status.

The child, or their parent or guardian, can apply to change this to settled status once they have reached five years’ continuous residence. This must be completed before their pre-settled status expires – i.e. before the five years following their grant of pre-settled status ends.

Other key facts

  • a child may be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme where their parent or guardian is not. For example, if the child lives in the UK, but the parent does not
  • parents or guardians can always apply on a child’s behalf, so long as the appropriate evidence is provided about their legal relationship – even if the parent or guardian is not eligible to apply

Applying for UK citizenship

The children of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK may be eligible for UK citizenship, even if their parents are not. There is further information about this below.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens do not require UK citizenship to live and work freely in the UK; settled status affords these rights, albeit with some restrictions (e.g. the amount of time they can be outside the country). Those eligible for citizenship should consider the merits of applying in their particular circumstances.

It is important that parents and guardians understand that children born in the UK are not automatically eligible for UK citizenship. You should read the guidance below carefully and find an immigration adviser if you require further support.

Automatic citizenship

The children of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens may have been automatically British at birth if:

  • one or both of their parents held UK citizenship at the time of the child’s birth
  • they were born before 02 October 2000 to EU, EEA or Swiss nationals exercising a right of residence at the time of birth
  • they were born after 02 October 2000, where at least one parent is an EU, EEA or Swiss national holding valid permanent residence at the time of birth

There are other circumstances in which such children are automatically UK citizens. The Home Office regularly updates its guidance on the automatic acquisition of citizenship rights; most recently, guidance was published in July 2019.

Eligibility requirements for citizenship

Some children of EU, EEA or Swiss citizens may be eligible for UK citizenship today, even if they were not automatically UK citizens at birth.

In summary, some children may be able to register as UK citizens; this is the only way a child not born British can become a UK citizen. Naturalisation is only available to adults.

This area of law can be complicated, so seeking legal advice and/or conducting further research is strongly recommended.

Useful resources

Below are some useful resources in regard to the rights of the children of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens

The Mayor of London has also provided a map of qualified immigration advisers, some of whom are specialists on children’s issues.


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