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Post-Brexit, are UK holidays over for EU nationals?

09 June 2021 Clara Smeaton Blog


We are now in the final month of the EU Settlement Scheme ‘Grace Period’ – the time allowed to EU citizens who were living in the UK before Brexit to apply for Pre-Settled or Settled Status. EU citizens who had not been living in the UK before Brexit cannot apply to the Settlement Scheme.

Previously, a national of any EU member state could travel to the UK for a holiday and be fairly certain of being allowed in, under their rights of free movement. Since Brexit however, the rights of free movement no longer apply to the UK.

So do EU nationals now need a visa to enter the UK for a holiday?

No - EU citizens intending to come to the UK for a visit do not need to apply for a visa, or ‘entry clearance’, in advance of their travel.

Broadly speaking, the Home Office divides would-be visitors to the UK into two categories: ‘visa nationals’ and ‘non-visa nationals’. A visa national needs a visa granted in advance if they want to enter the UK. A non-visa national does not.

People from EU countries are non-visa nationals and therefore they can simply fly to the UK and ask for permission to enter at the border, within the airport. In fact, they may simply be allowed to pass through border control, without formally ‘asking’ for permission to enter. If they are allowed through then their permission has been granted.

On this basis, EU citizens can be allowed entry to the UK for the purposes of (for example) tourism or visiting family and friends.

There are detailed lists of permitted and prohibited activities for visitors to the UK, but any EU citizen hoping to enter the UK only for a short holiday (Covid-19 permitting) should not need to be concerned with those details.

Who decides who gets in and why?

Decisions on allowing entry to a person at the UK border are made by border officials. Border officials can allow or refuse entry based on their on-the-spot assessment of the person seeking to enter.

Put simply, the assessment of the border official should come down to the question: is it more likely than not that this person is a genuine visitor to the UK? Factors considered might include whether or not the traveller has a return flight booked; whether they appear to have enough money to support themselves whilst in the UK; and how many times they have visited the UK over the last year.

While this sounds like a fairly simple and straightforward procedure, the powers of the border officials must be borne in mind. If the border official is not satisfied that the person seeking entry is a genuine visitor, they can simply refuse to let them into the UK and that decision cannot be appealed.

In theory, the long and expensive judicial review procedure could be used to challenge a refusal of entry, but an EU national hoping for only a short tourist visit is unlikely to bother going down this road.

While people classed as ‘visa nationals’ need to incur the cost and delay of obtaining a visa before they travel to the UK, the granted visa does, at least, provide some certainty that they will be allowed into the UK when they arrive here.

On the other hand, EU nationals (and other non-visa nationals) don’t need to apply for a visa before they travel but will be subject to the less predictable scrutiny of border officials as they try to start their holiday.

Legally there is nothing to stop most EU nationals from travelling to the UK for a visit, even after the end of the ‘Grace Period’. However, with recent press reports of EU nationals being detained or turned away at the UK border, the uncertainty and perceived hostility towards those travelling from Europe, may prove to be a deterrent to anyone hoping for a stress-free holiday.


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