The rights of EU citizens currently in the UK were the subject of considerable focus last week, in light of concerns as to whether the Home Office will be able to handle applications from the estimated three million EU citizens currently here and the position if no Brexit deal is agreed.
Citizens’ rights are one of the three areas on which the EU requires sufficient progress to be made before negotiations can encompass Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The UK is proposing to introduce a new ‘settled status’ in UK law for EU citizens who have been resident in the UK before a specified date (not yet defined but to be no earlier than 29 March 2017 and no later than the date of the UK’s withdrawal). This status will only be available to those with five years’ residence, but other individuals resident in the UK before the specified date will be able to apply for a temporary residence permit to cover the period until they have accumulated five years. EU citizens will be able to continue to reside in the UK for a transitional period of two years after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and during that period will have to apply for status to remain thereafter. Further details can be found here.
At the Home Affairs Committee meeting on 17 October, Amber Rudd gave assurances that the Home Office would be prepared and able to handle the registration process. The plan is for the process of registering for settled status to be largely completed entirely online, with online checks made with the HMRC and DWP with the applicant’s consent. The process is to be much simpler than the current process for seeking permanent residence, and will be simpler still for those who already have permanent residence. Ms Rudd stated that the new system should be up and running by the end of 2018 and individuals will be encouraged to apply from that point, so with the transitional period will have more than two years to do so. The “default position” will be that applications to register for settled status are accepted, unless there are issues of fraud or criminality.
The Committee questioned Ms Rudd repeatedly as to what the position would be if no deal on Brexit is reached. She stated that she ‘fully expected’ that EU citizens currently in the UK will be able to stay here, that she could not envisage circumstances when they would be asked to leave, even if no deal is reached. However, she considered it would be a mistake to give a unilateral guarantee of this at this point, given that negotiations with the EU over issues such as family entitlements are still ongoing. She stated that a White Paper for an Immigration Bill would be available by the end of 2017 and that she hoped there will be more evidence for EU citizens there and, once the new registration process for settled status is in place by the end of 2018, they “will see that confirmed”. The new Immigration Bill is expected to have its first reading in January 2018.
The Home Affairs Committee is seeking written evidence on the capacity of the Home Office to meet the Brexit challenge by 6 November; views can be submitted here.
On 19 October the Prime Minster published an open letter to EU citizens in the UK. The letter states that “I couldn’t be clearer: EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay”. However, she then goes on to note that there are still “a small number of important points” to finalise in the negotiations. She states that the two sides are “within touching distance of agreement” and that she is confident that discussions can be concluded in the coming weeks. The letter does not expressly address the position if there is no deal. EU citizens hoping for a clear, unilateral guarantee of their rights to remain, whatever the circumstances, may not be reassured.
As to the process for registering for settled status, the letter reiterates that this will be a “streamlined digital process” which costs no more than the cost of a UK passport, with simple criteria. The Prime Minister confirmed that applicants for settled status will not be required to account for every absence from the UK and will no longer be required to show that they had Comprehensive Sickness Insurance covering their time in the UK (as required for certain individuals under current EU rules). Those who already have permanent residence will have a simple process for swapping this to settled status.