EU citizens wanting to apply for proof of their right of permanent residence in the UK currently have to cut through spools of red tape. The unnecessary bureaucracy defeats some, who are wrongly being told by the Home Office that they must leave the UK after years and years of lawful residence.
It does not need to be like this.
Here I suggest eight changes the Home Office could immediately implement which would make life simpler for the 3 million EU residents who are worried about their status in the UK and which would also shorten the decision making process for the Home Office. No law changes are required and these changes really just wind the clock back to before the days of deliberate obstructionism by the Home Office towards EU free movement rights.
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Back in 2008, the earliest available date in the National Archive for the Home Office immigration website, the form that was used for permanent residence applications was called the EEA4. It was 13 pages long. It was free. Applications were short and simple. Neither EU law nor any relevant UK law have changed since then.
If we fast forward to 2017, applicants are now told told by the Home Office to use an 85 page form called the EEA(PR) and pay a fee of £65 per person. The supporting documents the Home Office suggests can end up being hundreds of pages long. Applications take up to six months to decide, during which time the original documents and the applicant’s passport are retained by the Home Office.
The application form is six times as long as it used to be. It is confusing and difficult to use and it asks many, many unnecessary questions. For example, question 17.9 asks the applicant:
Please state what ties you (or any family members who are applying with you) have with:
• the country where you were born
• any other country whose nationality you hold
• any country where you have lived for more than 5 years
You should tell us about any family friends, or other connections with that country…
There is then a table for the country and the ties to be set out in detail.
That is most of one page we can scrap straight away. It is irrelevant. It is simply snooping into the lives of those who are applying. I cannot think of any justification or reason for it.
Question 17.4 asks about committing war crimes, genocide and so forth. Question 17.5 asks about terrorist activities. And so on. The Home Office must know these are pointless questions to which no actual terrorist would answer “yes”.
The single worst question, and the one that causes the most upset and grief to my clients, is at 5.3, where the form asks the applicant to set out every single absence from the UK during the five year period on which they rely for permanent residence. Given that immigration officials are not even allowed to stamp EU passports on entry to the UK, this is virtually impossible.
The Government does need to know whether an applicant has been outside the UK for more than six months during any given period. This is relevant in EU law. The Government does not need to know about every weekend trip or holiday an applicant has every taken, which is what the question asks for.
What we have seen since 2008 is the UK Government gradually but deliberately making it harder and harder for EU nationals and their family members to prove their status in the UK. Back before Brexit this was simply unpleasant and unnecessary. It is not unforgivable. The Home Office needs to take immediate steps to make the process simpler and easier so that EU residents can prove their right to live in the UK.
Here are eight steps the UK Government can and should take to simplify the modern permanent residence application process:
- Make applications free. The UK is permitted to charge for applications but should cease doing so. Fees were only introduced in 2013 and have been increased since then.
- Drastically reduce the length and complexity of the forms. People prefer to use a formal application form even though they do not need to. The forms should be short, simple and user friendly. They are not. Irrelevant questions should be eliminated. 13 pages was good enough in 2008, it should be good enough now.
- Stop asking applicants for every single absence abroad. Instead ask if they have been outside the UK for more than 6 months during a 12 month period.
- Reduce the paperwork that needs to be submitted. In EU law a worker can only be asked for an employer certification of employment. The UK Home Office asks for employer certification, P60s, wage slips, bank statements and more.
- Accept certified copies of documents. Requiring originals is pointless and increasing numbers of documents are online anyway.
- Introduce a proper online application process. The current version has to be printed and posted. Applicants should be able to upload copies of relevant documents.
- Announce that access to the NHS counts as comprehensive sickness insurance. The EU Commission thinks that NHS access counts as comprehensive sickness insurance and the UK Government should just accept that position.
- Take a realistic and annual approach to earnings and employment. Stop applying the Minimum Earnings Threshold. Earnings of around £4,000 per year should be sufficient in EU law (minimum wage x 10 hours per week x 48 week working year) and there is no no need to enquire about gaps where annual earnings are sufficient.
None of this would represent any change to UK law or to EU law. It would merely be simplifying existing processes and rolling back some of the complexity that has been introduced by bureaucrats over the last few years. It is not treating EU citizens more generously than is required but it would show proper respect to their existing rights under EU law, while EU law continues to apply.