European Citizens and their Families


The European Communities Act 1972 is the primary legislation for the UK as amended by the European Economic Area Act 1993.

The European Economic Area Regulations 2006 is the principal source of UK legislation interpreting the UK’s current obligations in respect of European immigration matters.

Right of Free Movement

Nationals of the following states enjoy a ‘Right of Free Movement’ within the EEA:

  • The UK is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) which comprises of the following states Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria**, Cyprus*, Czech Republic*, Denmark, Estonia*, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary*, Iceland, Irish Republic, Italy, Latvia*, Liechtenstein, Lithuania*, Luxembourg, Malta*, Netherlands, Norway, Poland*, Portugal, Romania**, Slovakia*, Slovenia*, Spain, Sweden, UK. Iceland,
  • *denotes the countries which joined on 1 May 2004 – these are known as the A8 countries. Citizens of the A8 nationals are allowed to travel freely to the UK but were subject to employment restrictions until 2011. Nationals of the A8 countries are now no longer required to register under the Workers Registration Scheme.
  • ** denotes countries which joined on 1 January 2007 who also remain subject to work restrictions.
  • Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not part of the EEA but nationals of these countries enjoy the same rights of Free movement referred to below hence why they are for these purposes they are listed above.
  • Switzerland is not a member of the EEA, however, its citzens enjoy the same rights EEA nationals, again, the reason why they are listed above.

Treaty Activity

Nationals who enter another Member State and exercise a Treaty right, (i.e. by taking employment, engaging in business, undertaking study or being economically self-sufficient) have a right to bring their non-EEA dependants to come and live them.


The definition of “dependants” includes spouses, civil partners, children up to the age of 21, dependant parents, grandparents and grandchildren or great grandchildren up to the age of 21.

Students are only allowed to bring their spouse or children to the UK.

Dependants can also include a partner with whom the EEA national has a formed a’ durable’ relationship.

Once the Treaty right is ‘exercised’ by the EEA national, by engaging in one of the activities referred to above, the non-EEA national may have a right to accompany the EU national to live in the UK.

The non-EEA national fiancé/fiancées/prospective civil partners of EEA nationals exercising Treaty rights may also apply to their partners in the UK. In this instance, the EEA national living in the UK MUST hold either permanent residence or a Residence Document.

Permitted activities

Once formally in the UK both the EEA national and their non-EEA family members can work (employment or self employment) or study.

Permanent Residence

On completion of five years residence in the host state an EEA national is deemed to be a permanent resident if he can show that he has been exercising one of the Treaty rights referred to above. A non-EEA national dependant can also apply for permanent residence so long as the EEA national has continued to reside in the UK and exercised an activity.

Retained Residence

If the relationship between the EEA and the non-EEA national spouse breaks down, it may still be possible for the non-EEA national to apply for a ‘retained right of residence’ so long as he/she can show that they were married for three years and lived in the host Member State for at least one year. Divorce proceedings must be initiated to benefit from this option.

In certain circumstances, non-EEA nationals can enter or reside in the UK to care for their EEA national child living here.


EEA nationals exercising a Treaty right do not need to formally apply for a document to evidence their stay in the UK but are free to do so, should they wish.

Non-EEA nationals, however, should seek permission to enter the UK with an EEA Family Permit which is valid for 6 months. Once in the UK, or if they are already in the UK lawfully, they can apply for a Residence Document which will be valid for 5 years.

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