The government has finally announced how it will deal with EU citizens after Brexit, but within hours of launching the scheme was already been criticised.
The fate of EU citizens has hung in the balance ever since the June 2016 referendum, with the issue initially being seen as a bargaining chip with Brussels during the negotiation process.
But the Home Office on Thursday unveiled details of a “settlement scheme”, which it promises to be “short, simply and user friendly” when it comes into effect next March.
Here’s what it said:
The default will be to grant applications, rather than reject them
According to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, the default will be to grant applications from EU citizens in the UK, rather than reject them. The processing time would also be reduced from 6 months to a matter of days, he said.
“We will not be looking for excuses to not grant settled status,” Sajid Javid told a Lords EU Justice sub-committee.
We want them to stay and we want to make that process of staying as easy as possible.” Home Secretary Sajid Javid
But, The Application Won’t Be Available On All Types Of Phone
Applications can be made online or via android mobile phones - but not iPhones
Applicants with Android phones will be able to use a Home Office app to verify their identity - it will be able to read the chip in their passport - before taking a selfie which can be checked against Home Office records.
iPhones can’t read the chip, something Javid raised with Apple during a recent visit to Silicon Valley.
The company, he said, is “looking at it actively”.
Apple users will instead have to send the Home Office their passport to prove their identity.
Applicants without smartphones or computers, Javid has said, will be able to fill in their application online at libraries and other locations where caseworkers will be based to help them.
Home visits will also be offered to people who are housebound or in residential care, with the Home Office promising “human” contact for anyone struggling to fill in the application.
When Can You Apply?
Javid said he wants the system to be fully operational by the “start of next year” to ensure there isn’t a “surge” of applicants when the UK leaves the EU on 30 March next year - the deadline set out by Prime Minister Theresa May.
However, it will be launched in late summer with specially selected test groups, to ensure it runs smoothly.
The scheme will be open for almost two and a half years (to June 2021), with EU citizens who arrive in the country eligible to apply right up until the end of December 2019, the proposed end of the transition period.
What Do You Need To Prove? Easy As 1-2-3
EU citizens living in the UK will be asked for three things - to prove their ID, if they have any criminal convictions, and whether they currently reside in Britain.
Javid said those answers would then be checked against government databases such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Guardian said, quoting a source, that tax and benefits records were not a surveillance operation but “a proxy for proof of residence”.
It is hoped that by checking submitted information against Government records most applicants won’t have to provide supporting documents, as identity will be easy to verify. As a result, decisions should be granted “very quickly”.
We are using government information, government records in a way, sadly, we didn’t with the Windrush generation and other cases, but actually proactively using that information, and I hope that message comes through.” Home Secretary Sajid Javid
Javid said the Home Office would do everything to prevent another scandal like that around the Windrush generation who were targeted under ‘hostile environment’ legislation and forced to prove their right to remain in the UK even though they automatically qualified for it.
“A number of mistakes were made,” Javid acknowledged. “There were clearly people from the Windrush generation that were badly treated. We want to make sure we learn all the lessons from that.”
Applicants will be asked to submit their passport or ID cards along with a passport or digital photograph.
If EU citizens don’t want to use their national insurance number and tax records, the Home Office will accept other proof of residence, including council tax bills, rental or mortgage statements, and utility bills.
Anyone with a criminal record involving a jail sentence exceeding 12 months, is at risk of not having their application granted. However, checks on past crimes in the UK, or the rest of Europe, will not be automatic.
What Do You Get?
EU citizens will be able to apply for the right to remain under two categories, depending on how long they’ve lived in the UK.
Settled status - for those who have lived in the UK for five years or more.
Pre-settled status - for those who have in the UK for less than five years.
Those granted “pre-settled status” will be able to swap it for “settled status” after five years.
EU citizens will be issued with an ID number, but not a physical card, which they will be required to use for public services, such as the NHS and possibly employment and property rental checks.
The new status will be considered a route to British citizenship, ending the need for EU citizens presently in the country to go through the permanent residency process which has been heavily criticised for being timely and costly.
Close family members - defined as “spouse, civil partner, durable partner, dependent child or grandchild or dependent parent or grandparent living overseas” - will be allowed to join those with settled status under a “lifetime right” of EU citizens already in the country.
Carers, stay-at-home parents, retired people and students are eligible for settled status with no proof of income.
Irish citizens will not have to apply but will have to provide proof of residency if they have non-EU spouses who want to remain in the UK.
How Much Will It Cost?
Applications will cost £65 per adult, with children paying half price.
One of the main groups campaigning for the rights of EU citizens, the3million, urged the Home Office to think again about charging people, telling the Guardian: “If the government is really committed, it should remove all barriers including fees.”
Founder Nicolas Hatton added to the newspaper: “Today’s statement will give hope to many EU citizens, but questions remain whether the Home Office will have the capacity to change the hostile environment culture to a welcoming approach.”
Is It A Big Job For The Home Office?
The Guardian suggested that the Home Office will have to process up to 4,500 applications a day to get through 3.2m applications before the programme closes.
The Home Office, however, has said the number could be even higher, estimating that there could be anything from “3.2m to 3.8m” EU citizens eligible for the scheme.
To deal with the flood of applications the Home Office will open a contact centre with 1,500 staff, including caseworkers proactively making calls to people.