On Thursday last week, the Home Office announced details of the EU settlement scheme by which EU citizens resident in the UK will be able to apply for settled status. The Home Office has also published a statement of intent, which sets out in detail how the scheme will work and includes draft immigration rules.
The new rules will come as welcome news for many EU nationals and UK businesses and confirms what the Government had previously promised: an online application system which will be streamlined, easy to use and document friendly. For example, most people will only need to complete three sections to prove their identity, show that they live in the UK (which might be possible through Government employment and benefits records) and declare that they have no serious criminal convictions. It is therefore possible that applicants will only need to complete the online form and will not be required to provide any supporting documents with the application.
The Government has confirmed that safeguarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK has always been their first priority and that the application process has been developed with that in mind. It has also confirmed that there will be a default position of accepting rather than rejecting applications and that support will be provided to the vulnerable and those without access to a computer, which will help reassure many EU nationals.
We have set out below a summary of the new rules.
EU citizens who have lived in the UK continuously for five years by 31 December 2020 will be able to apply for settled status. Those with less than five years' residence will be able to apply for pre-settled status. Stay at home parents, retired people and students will be eligible. Irish citizens will not have to apply but can do so if they wish. The scheme will also apply to citizens of the EEA and Switzerland.
According to Caroline Noakes, the Home Office Minister who made the announcement, the system will be straightforward and simple. It will consist of an online application form, which can be completed on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Support will be available, for example via a customer contact centre.
Applicants will have to satisfy three core criteria:
- Prove their identity and nationality
- Show they have been continuously resident in the UK for five years, which will be done on an automated basis using employment and benefit records
- Declare any criminal convictions in order to show that they are not a serious or persistent criminal or a security threat. (Convictions for minor offences will be ignored.)
The Government has announced that the fee will be £65 for adults and a reduced fee of £32.50 will apply to children under 16. There will be no fee for children in care.
Anyone who already has permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain will be able to swap this document for settled status without having to pay a fee.
The application process will open later this year. There will be a phased implementation and it will be fully open by 30 March 2019. EU citizens will have until 30 June 2021 to make an application.
Whilst the new rules are positive news for EU nationals and UK businesses, unfortunately the same cannot be said for UK nationals living and working across Europe. The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has expressed his concerns that other EU member states have not stated how they are going to support UK nationals in Europe and has urged those member states to finalise and publish their plans as soon as possible. It also remains to be seen whether the Home Office will be able to cope with the number of applications once the online process goes live (up to 3.5 million applications are expected) and whether the procedure will be as easy and as straight-forward as promised.