On 7 November 2017, the UK Government published its latest position on the future status of EU citizens in post-Brexit Britain. In the document, the Government pledges a “streamlined, low-cost and user-friendly” system for EU citizens applying for UK ‘settled status’.

Unfortunately, the published document does not constitute a full and final plan. Post-Brexit EU immigration remains subject to the wider exit negotiations, and changes may well follow.

As a summary, the main points of the Government’s proposals as at 7 November 2017 for EU citizen settled status are:

Eligibility

Settled status will be available to EU nationals who have lived lawfully in the UK for five continuous years. A formal application will have to be made and approved by UKVI for EU nationals to attain settled status in the UK. Settled status will not be granted automatically.

EU citizens who have not yet met the five-year requirement will be entitled to apply for continued residence in the UK on a temporary basis until they reach the five-year mark.

Grace period

EU citizens are to be granted a two-year ‘grace period’ after the UK’s exit from the EU in which to make their application for settled status. After this date, it is expected they will be subject to the UK’s post-Brexit immigration regime.

Expedited processing

In its paper, the Government emphasises a commitment to swift processing of EU applications via a ‘streamlined system’. There will for example be no requirement to provide biometric data such as fingerprints. The process will only ask applicants to submit a photograph.

Concerns have been expressed at how the Home Office will staff this new approach and service the anticipated demand for settled status applications.

Minimal drain

The supporting documentation requirement of UKVI applications are notoriously intensive for applicants. The Government is however pledging to ensure the settled status process will be less demanding on applicants.

The new system will also allow caseworkers to exercise discretion as part of the decision-making process. For example, it is expected that applicants will not be required to provide detailed evidence of residence status during undocumented periods – provided the residence requirements appear to have been met overall.

We expect the Home Office to make use of enhanced systems integration, data sharing and collaboration with other government agencies such as HMRC, to verify residence as a worker, in doing so alleviating the evidentiary burden on applicants.

Decision making

Applications are to be decided against set criteria, to be prescribed in the UK’s final EU withdrawal agreement.

The intention is that the Home Office is to work with applicants to help them avoid errors or omissions that could result in delays or refusals. Caseworker discretion for example should provide opportunities for applicants to rectify basic issues or provide supplementary evidence where requested.

Right of appeal

In the case of a refused application, applicants will be afforded a statutory right to appeal.

The process of appeal is to encompass prompt resolution of errors and omissions at case-worker level, and subsequent recourse to an independent judicial authority.

Applicants pending appeal will be permitted to remain in the UK until a decision has been made.

Security checks

The application process will require all applicants to declare any criminal convictions. Details will be checked against UK security databases as part of the application process.

Healthcare

The paper highlights that EU citizens will not be required to take out private medical insurance.

Dependants

Under the current plans, settled status would give EU nationals equivalent rights to UK citizens to bring family members into the UK, i.e. where they meet the minimum income threshold (currently set at £18,600 per annum). This is a more restricted position than that of EU citizens’ non-EEA dependants.

Affordable cost

UK visa and settlement applications come at a cost to applicants. The Government has pledged to keep the settled status application fee to the equivalent or less than that of a British passport (currently £72).

Permanent residence holders

EU nationals who hold UK permanent residence status will still be required to apply for settled status – however the intention is that this will be a light-touch process, relative to the initial permanent residence application process.

‘Exchanging’ permanent residence for settled status will be subject to ID verification, submission of a photograph, a security check and confirmation on ongoing residence, charged at a reduced fee.

Next steps for settled status?

The uncertainty continues for EU citizens seeking to secure their future in the UK. As yet, it is a matter of awaiting the outcome of EU exit negotiations and the resulting formal agreement. In the meantime, it is advisable to collate and retain documentary evidence supporting your residence status, in the event this is required as part of a settled status application process.

The full document published by the UK Government 7 November 2017 can be viewed here.