It’s been a little quiet on the Brexit front recently, but negotiations started up again this week. The talks don’t cover the status of EU migrants living in the UK, as the legal text on that was agreed in March. That agreement is at the mercy of an overall breakdown in negotiations — so those concerned with EU citizens’ rights have a stake in the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone. If EU and UK negotiators can’t resolve the Northern Ireland border issue, the whole agreement might be in peril. While it may seen as though Brexit will drag on forever, the crunch is coming fast: the deadline for a finalised withdrawal agreement is October and there will have to be some movement by next month.
Let’s proceed on the assumption that there is a deal and the agreement on citizens’ rights is signed. It still has to be made a reality on the ground. The Home Office label for the package of rights to which EU citizens can apply for is “settled status“, and there are still plenty of questions about how that will work in practice (150, according to campaign group the3million).
More details about how the department envisages the scheme working emerged last week. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, wrote to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator about the application process. Interesting tidbits include:
- Support for people who need help making an online application might even be provided “at home”, in addition to services over the phone and in libraries
- There will be a “dedicated customer contact centre to support people appropriately through the application process”.
- While an app is being developed so that identity documents can be verified remotely, IDs can still be posted in and returned “in a matter of days”
- Each member of EU families will have to apply separately under the scheme, except for dependent children
- As it has done many times before, the Home Office is riven with liberality when it comes to EU citizens and Brexit: the default will be to say “yes” to applications, people will not be turned away on minor technicalities, and caseworkers will exercise discretion in favour of applications. “Therefore”, the letter runs, the department is “creating separate case-working teams to handle Settlement Scheme applications”. Note the “therefore”, which is a tacit admission that existing casework teams are not culturally disposed to be helpful or flexible.
- The controversial exception to data protection rights in the interests of immigration enforcement “will only be used where there is a likelihood of prejudice to effective immigration control, for example in relation to on-going or planned enforcement activity”. Javid gives the assurance that “EU citizens will, as now, be able to request data via a Subject Access Request to the Home Office, and if necessary, to rectify the data held about them”.
- While EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain immigration status do not need to apply for settled status, they can if they want to, and it will be free (as it will be for those who already hold permanent residence documents).
This is not intended as a comprehensive overview of what we know about the settled status application process — only what seems to be new detail in this letter. For a closer look at the available information on the scheme, see Nath’s post: How to apply for “settled status” and “temporary status” for EU citizens. This is Free Movement’s go-to resource on that topic, and is updated frequently.