Controversy mounts over UK settled status: residence scheme to open to all EU nationals on January 21

A live trial of the settled status scheme will open to all EU nationals based in the UK on January 21, 2019. The scheme has been designed to replace, with some significant changes, the EU permanent residence system as the UK leaves the European Union.

The live trial starting on January 21 will be the third testing phase of the new scheme, which is expected to be fully operational on 30 March 2019.

While the testing phase is open on a voluntary basis, all EU nationals who reside in the UK on Brexit date will have to apply for settled status to secure the right to stay in the country. The deadline for applications will be 30 June 2021 if the EU withdrawal agreement is approved, or 31 December 2020 if there is no Brexit deal. But the scheme has caused controversy for the way it has been conceived and promoted.

Promotion backfires

The Home Office campaign to promote the settled status scheme was met with feelings ranging from derision to anger. Launched just after Christmas, a tweet with a video showing happy families going through the application process received more than 6,400 replies. Many EU nationals saw it as a bitter Christmas gift, as they are effectively required to apply to stay in their own homes, pay for it (65 GBP for adults and 32.5 GBP for children under 16) and see their rights downgraded, especially with regard to family reunions. Many British also felt ashamed about the message.

A Home Office spokesperson defended the campaign saying: “It is vital that EU citizens and their family members know their rights and entitlements are protected, and understand what to do when the settlement scheme goes live in March 2019.”

Little participation in testing phases

Few people have so far taken part in the testing of the settled status. The first test phase, from August 28 to October 17, involved 12 NHS trusts in north-west England and three universities in Liverpool. Out of 4,000 eligible EU citizens, 1,053 applied and 924 decisions were made by 30 October, according to a Home Office report.

The second phase, from November 1 to December 21, was extended to EU staff in the higher education and healthcare sectors across the UK, targeting 250,000 people. By December 13, more than 15,500 applications had been made, said the Home Office, and 12,400 people received settled or pre-settled status. The reasons why 3,100 applications (20% of the total) are still pending are not known yet, but the government announced a full report later in January.

In total, 360 applications per day were submitted during the second live trial, a low figure considering the scale of the task. To confirm the rights of some 3.5 million EU nationals in the UK by the deadline of 31 December 2020, the Home Office will have to process 5,468 applications a day.

Legal questions

Questions are also arising on some legal aspects of the settled status scheme. Everyone applying has to accept a privacy policy allowing the government to share data with “public and private sector organisations in the UK and overseas”. Responding to a freedom of information request by campaigning group the3million, the Home Office refused to disclose how the data may be used.

Separately, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a non-profit group campaigning for justice in immigration, started legal proceedings against settled status rules. The JCWI argues that they contradict promises made by ministers in parliament that only EU nationals with serious criminal records will be denied the right to stay in the UK.

EU nationals could live, study and work in the UK based on EU’s free movement rules that will no longer apply after Brexit. The settled status scheme has been agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement from the EU and the British government has confirmed it will be rolled out even if there is no Brexit deal.

To apply, EU nationals will need to prove their identity and respond to three questions to confirm that they reside in the UK and they have not been convicted for serious crimes. They will also have to pay the fee. An online application system will automatically match the data with records held by HM Revenue & Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions. Other documents can be submitted to provide evidence if needed.

An app to verify the applicants identity is available only on Android smartphones or tablets using NFC (Near-Field Communication) protocols. The Home Office recently published a list of locations where people without the app can scan and verify their ID documents. The website specifies: “you may be charged to use this service.”

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo via Pixabay.

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