The first test phase of the incoming EU Settlement Scheme, which allows EU citizens to remain in the UK post-Brexit, has come to an end and the second phase is about to begin.
The Home Office is very pleased with the feedback and is confident that it can smoothly register 3.5m EU nationals before 30 June 2021. Time will tell.
The first test phase was limited to a small number of employees at NHS trusts and Universities in Liverpool. Around 1,000 of the 4,000 eligible applicants made use of the system. The Home Office was satisfied with these numbers and believes that the other 3,000 people did not apply because family members had been excluded from the beta test - so applicants wanted to wait until all the family could apply together.
It utilises an app (snappily called "EU Exit Identity Document Check" which is available for download on Android phones now) or an online application form. If the app is used, an applicant need only take a photo of their passport (it very cleverly reads the biometric chip), answer some basic questions around residence / criminal history and take a selfie. If the online form is used, the questions are the same but they would have to post their passport to the Home Office so they can access the biometric chip.
Feedback has been good and applicants have praised the simple format, straightforward questions and quick turnarounds. 66 per cent of applications were decided within seven days and the rest within two weeks. There were no refusals. This was to be expected for a hand-picked group of applicants with simple employment histories.
Here are some particular highlights of what we know about the Settlement Scheme process so far:
- The app is only available on Android phones but negotiations are ongoing with Apple to develop a similar app for iPhones.
- You can use any Android phone, it does not have to belong to the applicant, and the app does not store any information. The Home Office is considering drop-in centres where people can borrow a phone and receive assistance.
- Applicants will have until 30 June 2021 to apply and, in order to prevent the system from crashing, the Home Office is urging people not to rush.
- There may be scope for applications after the 30 June 2021 deadline if applicants have a "good reason" for missing it - "good reason" has yet to be defined but the Government is determined to take a proportionate approach.
- The scheme is limited to EU nationals but progress is being made on the parallel agreements with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The second test phase, which runs from 1 November until 21 December 2018, will eventually cover all EU employees in the Higher Education and Health and Social Care sectors - an estimated 250,000 people. Depending on the feedback, we can expect the scheme to be opened to yet more people from 1 January 2019 and then to everyone from 30 March 2019 ("Brexit Day" +1).
Family members are not included in the beta phase, which is a missed opportunity for the Home Office to test cases where it may not be so easy to demonstrate residence. The test phase is aimed at straightforward employment cases (a simple national insurance contribution check) and avoids the more challenging self-employed or economically inactive (those who have retired, for example, or non-working spouses). When problems do arise, it will likely be from these groups. I hope that the next phase stress tests the system comprehensively.