Understanding EEA Nationals

The European Economic Area (EEA) consists of all the countries that are members of the European Union and a few others to which EU free movement rules also apply. Since the UK left the European Union, citizens of these countries no longer enjoy the same 'free movement rights in the UK; instead, their rights are conditional on variables such as when they first arrived in the country and whether they have applied under the National Settlement Scheme.

EU accession states

Special transitional rules normally apply for a temporary period of five to seven years as new countries join the European Union (becoming "accession states"). Nationals of other EU countries were not subject to these transitional rules, which curtailed their rights to free movement, employment, and welfare. People with Croatian nationality sought a home or welfare assistance before July 1, 2018, were the most recent victims. After that date, EEA nationals' rights were no longer conditional on their country of origin, including in the case of applications made by Croats. 


Permanent Residence

Permanent Residence


Derivative Residence Card

Derivative Residence Card


EEA Family Permits

EEA Family Permits


EEA Residence Card

EEA Residence Card


Residence Card UK

Residence Card UK

The ECSMA and ESC treaties

Rights to medical and social assistance for residents of one treaty member state residing in the territory of another treaty member state are guaranteed by treaties such as the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance (ECSMA) and the European Social Charter (ESC). The EU and EEA treaties are not related to either of these agreements in any way. Membership is not limited to EU and EEA member states (although most, but not all, EEA member states are either ECSMA members or ESC members, or both), and any European state can sign on if it so chooses.

Despite leaving the European Union and the EEA, the UK remains a signatory to both treaties. Through their respective national legislation, ECSMA and ESC member states, including the UK, give effect to the treaties. UK law exclusively recognizes the rights of nationals of treaty member states that have signed and ratified each treaty. Rights in treaties solely cover welfare payments (for help with housing costs) for the purposes of this website; rights to social housing or homelessness aid are not covered.

Member states of the ECSMA and ESC Treaty

Bulgaria, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, and Switzerland are the only EEA member states that are not signatories to either the ECSMA or ESC treaties.

Both North Macedonia and Turkey, two European countries outside the EEA, have signed and ratified the treaties.

The ECSMA member states are:

  • Member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) include the Belgian, Danish, Estonian, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Luxembourg, Maltese, Netherlands, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish
  • Other (non-EEA) states include the Turkish and British.

The ESC member states are:

  • States that are part of the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • Those that aren't are represented by North Macedonia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.


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EEA nationality and their immediate families

The local authority is obligated to determine whether the parent is eligible for welfare benefits and homelessness assistance and whether the provision of support is necessary to prevent a breach of the family's human rights or rights under the EU treaties when an EEA national or family member of an EEA national requests such assistance for their family through social services.

Thus, it is incumbent upon the local government to ascertain whether or not the parent has a right to reside in the UK under European law and, if so, how this may influence the parent's eligibility for benefits.

The UK's exit from the European Union (EU) has not yet been finalized. Only after the UK formally leaves the EU and any transition period ends will people's rights under the European law mentioned above are altered.

The Right to Reside

EEA nationals and their families do not need a visa or other permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (UK); their freedom to do so is protected by European law and is known as "EU treaty rights" or "free movement rights." The Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, which came into effect in the UK, incorporate these rights.

There is no legal necessity for an EEA national to get confirmation of their right to reside; nevertheless, they may apply for such evidence from the Home Office if they so wish. Since the rights of EEA citizens living in the UK are uncertain, it is important for individuals to make sure they maintain any documentation that could prove their presence and activity in the UK, as well as their link with EEA family members.

The initial period of residence for all EEA nationals is three months. They would have to be "exercising a treaty right" or being a "qualified person" in order to stay in the UK past this point.

To be considered a qualified person under the 2016 Regulations, an EEA national must be engaged in one of the following activities.

  • Workers looking for work (perhaps including recently laid-off workers).
  • somebody who works for themselves (current or previous)
  • A person who can fend for themselves
  • Student

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Regulations from 2016 outline the particular criteria that an EEA national must meet in order to be considered qualified. The following are some of the most important prerequisites.

  • Only if there is "compelling evidence" that the EEA national is actively seeking work and has a "genuine chance" of becoming engaged in employment may their jobseeker status be extended beyond the first three-month period.
  • It is possible for an EEA national to keep their worker status if they fall into one of the following categories:
    • temporarily unable to work due to illness or accident,
    • involuntarily unemployed and registered as a jobseeker with the relevant employment office and can provide evidence that they are seeking employment and have a genuine chance of being engaged (worker status is only retained for longer than six months if they have worked for at least one year and have at least six months of continuous employment history); or retired.
  • If an EEA national becomes temporarily unable to perform their self-employment activities due to a sickness or injury, they may nevertheless maintain their status as a self-employed person.
  • During their stay in the UK, a student or self-sufficient individual must have "comprehensive sickness insurance" and "sufficient resources not to become a burden on the social assistance system."

The UK government has the authority to temporarily restrict nationals of newly admitted EU countries' access to the labour market. Between May 2004 and April 2011, nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were subject to quotas, and between January 2007 and December 2013, nationals of Bulgaria and Romania were subject to quotas.

Since Croatia joined the EU on July 1, 2013, national restrictions on the labour market only apply to Croatian citizens. To work in the UK, Croatian need to register as workers unless they fall under one of the exemption categories. On June 30, 2018, the registration requirement for Croatian nationals working in the UK will be lifted, allowing them to work in any capacity without further paperwork.

After five years of continuous residence in the UK, EEA nationals who meet the criteria as a worker or self-employed person who has ceased activity because of a permanent incapacity to work will earn the right of permanent residence under the 2016 Regulations.

Family Members of EEA National:

Where the EEA national is a "qualified person," some family members of EEA nationals, whether they are themselves EEA nationals or not, will be able to live and work in the UK. Permanent residency can also be obtained by immediate relatives.

Who qualifies as a family member is laid out in detail in the Immigration (EEA) Regulations of 2016:

  • conjugal or married partner
  • The EEA national's or their spouse's/civil partner's minor child
  • The kid of an EEA national or their spouse/civil partner who is younger than 21 years old
  • The ascending line of the EEA national's family, including their parents and grandparents and spouses or civil partners.

Until the marriage or civil partnership is formally dissolved, a person who has separated from their spouse or civil partner will continue to be treated as such. After that time, they may be able to keep their residency privilege if they meet the requirements outlined in the rules.

The right to dwell extends to the EEA national's spouse or civil partner, as well as any children or other relatives who are financially dependent on either the EEA national or their spouse or civil partner.

Rules for Families of EES National Students

Families of EEA national students are subject to different rules.

  • A non-EEA national may also acquire a derivative right to reside under European law if they are the primary caretaker of a British (or EEA national's) adult or child and the British (or EEA national's) departure from the EEA would result in the primary caretaker's inability to stay and work in the UK.
  • The "Zambrano right to reside" describes this situation.
  • The right to live in a country is usually earned through familial ties.
  • Non-EEA national family members will need evidence of their lawful residence to obtain employment, access services, and easily travel in and out of the UK, but there is no requirement for them to obtain confirmation of this from the Home Office.
  • However, in accordance with the Regulations, in order to be recognized as having a right to dwell, extended family members must first receive certification from the Home Office.