Testing of the new EU settlement scheme is already underway. Since August, approximately 4,000 EU citizens working for twelve NHS trusts and three universities in the north west of England have been eligible to apply for settled status under the scheme. However, we understand only around 25% of those eligible have taken this opportunity. This may be because they are waiting until their family members can apply with them.
The Immigration Minister, Caroline Noakes, has reported that early indications are positive and on average the application process took 15-20 minutes. We do not know how long it is taking to get a decision, but so far everyone who has received an outcome has been successful in obtaining the leave they expected. However, lessons have had to be learned regarding the cross-checking of records with HMRC and the DWP, use of terminology and the process for verifying the applicant’s e-mail address.
A second phase of testing will run from 1 November to 21 December 2018. The scheme is gradually being opened to employees of all higher education institutions with a Tier 4 sponsor licence, followed by NHS employees. Family members will still not be able to apply at this time.
The second phase is also going to test slightly more complicated applications, from children looked after by five different local authorities and from applicants represented by charities, including one for victims of domestic violence.
The government maintains that the scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019 and EU citizens and their family will have until 30 June 2021 to apply, in line with the draft Withdrawal Agreement. However, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee has noted that “it still isn’t clear when they will have tested the entire process, nor how the system will work at scale.”
The government has now confirmed that family members of British nationals who are in the UK on a ‘Surinder Singh’ basis will also be covered by the scheme.
Another change is the introduction of a right to administrative review which will be available to those whose settled status application is refused on the basis that they do not meet the eligibility requirement, as well as those who are granted limited (pre-settled) rather than indefinite (settled) leave to remain. Any applicants who are refused on the basis of suitability, or due to making an invalid application, will not have a right to an administrative review.