Three easy steps to settled status

Since we last addressed the plight of EU citizens in the UK, the government has published further details of its settlement scheme. The Home Office has announced that EU citizens will be able to apply for settled status in three easy steps, and the cost will be less than that of a British passport.

The Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, confirmed those applying would need to:

  • prove their identity: the government expects this to be by passport, national identity card, biometric residence card, permit, digital scan or hard copy documents. It will also include a requirement to enrol a facial image;
  • show they live in the UK: see further information below; and
  • declare that they have no serious criminal convictions: the government will undertake checks against UK criminality and security databases, and conduct overseas criminal record checks.
    For EU citizens who already have valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain documentation, they will be able to exchange it for settled status. They will incur no fee.

One significant change to the immigration system is the proposal that the Home Office will work with other UK government departments to obtain the required supporting information and documents to show that the applicant lives in the UK. Anyone who has previously dealt with the Home Office will have been used to compiling full and numerous supporting documents. In deciding on settled status applications, the Home Office will check the employment and benefits records held by HM Revenue and Customs and, in due course, the Department for Work and Pensions, to automatically prove residence. The government also expects to roll out this initiative to other immigration applications in the future. Of course, if it is not applicable or appropriate to revert to HMRC or the DWP for the checks, the Home Office will accept documentary evidence from a prescribed list.

Application deadlines

The deadline for applications to the scheme for those who, by 31 December 2020, have been continuously resident in the UK for five years, will be 30 June 2021. "Continuously resident" retains its current meaning in that an applicant must not have been absent from the UK for more than six months in total in any 12-month period.

The government will grant pre-settled status to those who have arrived in the UK by 31 December 2020, but have not yet lived in the UK for five years. They will be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point. The government will not charge for the subsequent settled status application.

The new online application will be accessible through smartphones, tablets and computers, albeit android phones, not Apple. Of course, there will be a minority who will not have access to technology and there will be a focus by the government on finding those people and providing special help so they can apply.

Starting on 28 August 2018, the government will run a beta trial of the online settled status application, using NHS trusts and universities in the North West as guinea pigs. From there, the government will phase in the scheme. It is expected to be fully open by 30 March 2019, the day after the UK leaves the EU. The deadline for applications will be 30 June 2021. The status of applicants will be protected, pending the outcome of the application.

What can employers be doing?

Managing the people aspects of Brexit is more about talent retention than immigration compliance. With more EEA nationals leaving the UK, and fewer arriving, it is important to consider reliance on labour and skills from Europe, and how employers will replace this pipeline after Brexit. Employee retention, especially in those areas with a reliance on skills and labour from Europe, will be critical. One way to increase retention is to see Brexit as a way to show your employees how much you value them. Employers could proactively engage with employees on Brexit matters, keep them informed on what they will need to do to apply for residence documentation and provide a level of support (for example, through seminars).

We do not have clarity on what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. One of the potential risks is that there would be no official transition period. This could accelerate the timeline for the end of free movement, meaning that anyone arriving in the UK after 29 March 2019 would need to satisfy requirements for a visa, as with non-EEA nationals. There is clearly still much work for the government to do to iron out all the people mobility issues that arise with Brexit. We will continue to keep you updated as news develops.

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