Regular readers will remember the problems caused by Comprehensive Sickness Insurance, or CSI. Essentially, certain EU citizens in the UK pre-Brexit were expected to have private health insurance. If they didn’t, it can still cause them legal problems to this day, at least on paper.
Baroness Ludford, speaking in the House of Lords the other day, explains:
… there has been a long-running problem of EU citizens in Britain who are not employed, such as students, the self-[sufficient] and homemakers, being expected—although, crucially, not usually told—to have private insurance…
Fast forward to Brexit and the acute issue of whether those lacking private health insurance were legally resident in the UK and could seek settled status under the withdrawal agreement. Fortunately, the UK Government wisely cut through that residual red tape and said, in an admirably pragmatic decision, that they would let everyone get settled status. However, often unbeknownst to individuals, they fell into one of two groups: the true cohort and the extra cohort. The significance of this distinction arises only—indeed only becomes known—when a settled person seeks to register a child’s birth, to naturalise themselves as British or to bring a family member to join them in this country. Then they face a veritable series of snakes and ladders, because any historical gap in CSI—private insurance—may make them slide down into a pit of reptilian problems. Only when they seek to register a child, bring in a spouse or become a British citizen might they be told: “Aha! Your historic lack of CSI is a bar.”
Our past coverage of this has focused on the citizenship issue in particular. The Home Office policies on naturalisation and good character both highlight lack of CSI as a problem, but say that officials can exercise discretion to overlook it.
The good news is that, in practice, officials appear to have been doing just that. Home Office minister Susan Williams, speaking in the same debate, told the Lords:
I am pleased to say that, to date, I am not aware of anyone having been refused naturalisation solely because they did not have CSI.
This echoes what Kevin Foster told the House of Commons: “no one has been refused British citizenship purely on the basis of the CSI requirement in free movement regulations”.
Note the qualification: “solely” / “purely“. It may be that CSI has served as a back-up ground for refusing citizenship on character grounds in cases of petty criminality, for example. But certainly this statement suggests that, in most cases, CSI is either being ignored or discretion applied as a matter of course.
As Nick says, it may still be best to go through the motions of asking for discretion to be applied if applying for citizenship in circumstances where CSI is an issue.
It would be easier all round if the ghost of CSI were simply exorcised from the law altogether. That is happening in respect of at least one group of people: naturalised EU citizens who can still invoke free movement rights to sponsor family members, known as Lounes dual nationals. Baroness Williams said that the government
will amend the Immigration Rules for the EUSS [EU Settlement Scheme] and the EUSS family permit at the next appropriate opportunity to disapply any requirement for a Lounes dual national to have held CSI in order to sponsor applications by relevant family members.
📢📢BREAKING: The Government has announced today that someone with a past CSI gap will now NOT lose family reunion rights if they naturalise as a dual EU-British citizen.
— the3million (@the3million) February 1, 2022
Full credit to Jonathan Kingham for first spotting this exchange.