Five hundred days after the EU referendum, the UK Home Office published a technical note clarifying the administrative procedure it intends to apply to recognise the position of EU nationals living in Britain once the country leaves the EU.
The document was sent to the European Commission as part of the Brexit negotiations, and EU citizens who registered to receive updates from the Home Office were informed about it.
“The note contains the clearest and most favourable statement so far of the intended approach of the Home Office on the new ‘settled status’ visa category available to EU citizens in the United Kingdom,” wrote law firm Fragomen in their newsletter. But the European parliament steering group on Brexit and citizens’ rights associations remain sceptical.
What the note says
Based on the assumption that there will be a Brexit deal, the new status of EU nationals will be part of the EU withdrawal agreement that will bind the UK to its obligations and will be incorporated in UK law. The UK and the EU have already agreed that the conditions for EU citizens to acquire settled status will be similar to those for EU permanent residence (five years of continuous and lawful residence as a worker, self-employed person, student, self-sufficient person or family member). Comprehensive sickness insurance, which is currently requested from economically inactive EU citizens, will no longer be demanded.
The UK will design a “streamlined, user-friendly, digital application process”. The Home Office will draw on existing government data, for example HMRC’s, to verify residence. A voluntary application process will be developed before Brexit and will sit alongside existing EU law, according to the technical note. After Brexit, there will be 2 years for individuals to apply to the new system. The UK says it will take a proportionate approach to those who miss the deadline.
To apply, a photo will be requested, but no other biometrics such as fingerprinting. The fee will not exceed the cost of a British passport (about 75 GBP). For those who already hold an EEA permanent residence card, there will be a simple process to exchange it for a settled status document, subject to identity and residence verification. The principle of “evidential flexibility” will apply and officials will be able to exercise discretion in favour of the applicant to avoid unnecessary burdens.
Applicants will be able to appeal to an independent judicial authority. As for expulsions and deportations, the note makes references to current EU directives and to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), but new immigration rules will apply. The UK therefore accepts that other EU countries may depart from EU measures with regard to expulsion of British nationals too.
The European parliament steering group on Brexit, chaired by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, responded to the document stressing that major issues still have to be addressed to secure “equal and fair treatment” of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.
They expressed concern about the UK proposals arguing that acquiring ‘settled status’ should be an automatic process in the form of a declaration rather than an application with conditions. Also, families should be enabled to make one joint declaration instead of individual ones and the burden of proof should be on the UK authorities. In addition, the process should be cost-free. The committee said that the new system can only be enforced after Brexit or any agreed transition period, as freedom of movement applies otherwise.
The parliament, as well as groups defending citizens’ rights, are especially critical of the proposed ‘settled status’ as it does not recognize the same rights to family reunification EU nationals in the UK enjoy now.
The technical note does not specify the deadline by which EU nationals must have entered the UK to qualify for settled status. The British government initially suggested this might be 29 March 2017, the day Article 50 was triggered starting the Brexit process. Recent media reports, however, said the cut-off date will be Brexit day, as the expected rush of EU nationals to the UK before Brexit is not happening.
No progress has been reported after a mini-round of Brexit negotiations last week in Brussels.
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo: An example of innovative SMEs in the management of biometric data at Lisbon Airport. By Patricia De Melo Moreira © European Union, 2014, source: EC – Audiovisual Service.