The Home Office announced that it would offer a new passport return service with effect from October 1 2016 for European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals applying for either a registration certificate or permanent residence. The service has been introduced to create a more streamlined application process and ease the burden on UK Visas and Immigration's EEA casework department.

Service

Applicants must complete either an EEA (Qualified Person) or EEA (Permanent Residence) application form online and prepare the necessary supporting documents. They then need to arrange an appointment with a participating local authority (eg the nearest participating council), which will be within five working days of submitting the application form online. At the appointment the local authority will photocopy the applicant's passport and forward this together with the applicant's completed application form and checklist to the Home Office. The applicant's passport will be returned at the end of the appointment, and he or she will therefore still able to use it while the application is being processed.

The service is not available for applications of non-EEA family members, in which case original passports of the applicant and family members must be submitted in line with the existing postal arrangements.

Implications

This is a welcome change to the EEA application process as it promises an end to delays in passports being returned to applicants. Historically, settlement applications have been taking up to nine months to be decided, which has impeded travel for individuals who have been required to submit their original passport with their application.

The Home Office has confirmed that the local authority will not be responsible for checking applications before they are sent. It therefore remains essential that all information provided on the application form is correct and that all the relevant supporting documentation is provided for an application to have the best chance of success. The overall processing time remains unchanged, but at least applicants will now have their passports to hand during that time.

Given the outcome of the Brexit vote, large numbers of EEA and Swiss nationals may now wish to have a formal document confirming their right to remain in the United Kingdom, either as an EEA national exercising treaty rights or on the grounds of entitlement to permanent residence under the EEA regulations. It is advisable that EEA nationals protect their current immigration status given the government's stated intention to introduce a separate immigration system for EEA nationals once the United Kingdom has formally withdrawn from the European Union.

For further information on this topic please contact Lucy Hughes at Magrath LLP by telephone (+44 20 7495 3003) or email (lucy.hughes@magrath.co.uk). The Magrath LLP website can be accessed as www.magrath.co.uk.

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