Home office warned over ‘new Windrush scandal’ as it rolls out EU citizen scheme
The Home Office is being warned it risks creating a new “Windrush scandal” as the roll-out of its post-Brexit scheme to register an estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK begins.
EU nationals and their family members who wish to remain in the country beyond June 2021 must apply to the settlement scheme, which enters its first public testing phase on Monday.
The website and app opens to EU nationals living in the UK with passports and their non-EU family members with biometric residence cards, ahead of a full launch by April.
Critics are warning that thousands could be left without legal status if applications are not processed quickly and efficiently.
Jill Rutter, think tank British Future’s strategy director, said: “The Home Office must invest in getting the EU settlement scheme right from the start.
“Failure to do so could cause massive problems in years to come, on a far bigger scale than the Windrush scandal.”
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said extensive testing “shows clearly that we are well on track to deliver a system that will make it easy and straightforward for EU citizens to obtain status”.
But pressure group the3million surveyed its EU members to find their biggest concern was losing their rights in the future, with founder Maike Bohn warning trust in ministers is low.
“The Windrush people trusted the Home Office and many of them got deported because they were citizens but couldn’t prove it,” she said.
Officials expect they can process about 6,000 applications a day, with about 1,500 caseworkers on the scheme and a further 400 in a resolution centre to deal with issues.
A trial of nearly 30,000 applicants was restricted to people in specific professions, with only a small number of vulnerable people participating.
More than two thirds were approved in three working days and 81% within a week.
While improvements to the process have been made, nearly a quarter of people told the Government they found it difficult during previous testing.
The price of applying for settled status is £65 for adults and £32.50 for children, although people already granted permanent residence face no extra charge.
Many will choose to use an app created by the Government but it can only be used on Android devices, which excludes iPhones and iPads, although there other ways to apply.
British Future’s report, entitled “Getting it right from the start: securing the future of EU citizens in the UK”, has identified potential barriers.
It says people may not hear about the scheme, might not realise it applies to them, struggle to provide proof of residency or find the system hard to navigate.
There is also a possibility the system will have technical difficulties matching names and official records, according to the report.
Its co-author Ms Rutter said: “The stakes are high.
“Get it right and the UK sends a strong message that EU citizens are welcome and the Government is in control.
“Get it wrong and the consequences are dire.”
British Future suggests a “cost-price” British Citizenship offer, at a reduced rate of £300, to EU citizens with five years’ continuous residency, who meet the other citizenship requirements.
Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey MP said: “No one seriously believes that the Home Office will be able to grant settled status to everyone who’s eligible within two years.
“Thousands will be left effectively undocumented and subject to Theresa May’s hostile environment.”
Those who have lived continuously in the UK for five years can apply for settled status, meaning they are free to go on living and working in the UK indefinitely.
People who do not have five years’ residence can seek to stay until they have, at which point they can seek settled status.
Applicants are asked to prove their identity, declare any criminal convictions and upload a facial photograph.
Officials check employment and benefits data to confirm proof of residence, while all applications are run through UK criminality and security databases.
It is anticipated that the total number of applications could run to more than 3.5 million.
A Home Office spokesman added: “It will be simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need.
“They will only need to complete three key steps, prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.”
WHO HAS TO APPLY FOR SETTLED STATUS AND HOW WILL THE SCHEME WORK?
The majority of the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK will have to apply to the Government’s settled status scheme if they wish to remain in the UK after June 2021.
Who has to apply?
EU citizens – excluding those from the Republic of Ireland – who plan to stay in the UK long-term will have to apply for settled status, guidance published on the Home Office website states.
Irish citizens’ rights are guaranteed under the Common Travel Area established in 1923 to ensure open borders between the UK and Ireland.
EU nationals that have previously been granted indefinite leave to enter the UK or indefinite leave to remain in the UK are also exempt from the scheme.
But EU citizens who only have a permanent residence document will still need to apply for settled status.
Non-EU nationals in the UK with an EU spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner also need to apply for the settlement scheme, and are advised to apply at the same time as them.
You will still need to apply for settled status if you are a non-EU national and your partner is an EU citizen who does not need to apply because they meet exemption criteria.
I am married to a British person, do I need to apply?
Any EU national married to a British person will need to apply for settled status if they have not previously taken British citizenship.
Widows of deceased British citizens will also need settled status if they wish to remain in the UK.
How do I apply?
The application process is online and via an app – applicants will be asked to prove their identity, their residence in the UK and will be asked whether they have criminal convictions in any overseas country.
Will my application be refused if I have criminal convictions?
Individuals with a persistent offending history, particularly if it involves violence or drugs, will have their application considered on a case-by-case basis, a spokesman for the Home Office said.
“We don’t expect to reject any genuine EU citizens living lawfully in the UK,” he said.
When must I apply by?
The scheme will be fully open from the start of the transition period on March 30 and the deadline is two years later on June 30, 2021.
Those who have been living in the UK for less than five years before the deadline will get “pre-settled status”, which can be changed to settled status when you have reached five years of continuous residence.
How much does it cost?
The application process will cost £65 for adults and £32.50 for children, while those who have previously been granted permanent residence will not face an extra charge.
How long does it take?
The process is still undergoing testing, but a trial of 30,000 people saw two-thirds of applications approved within three days and 81% within a week.
I am only planning on staying in the UK for a couple of years, should I apply?
People not planning on staying in the UK beyond the transition period do not need to apply for the scheme.
But EU nationals who plan to remain for several years but not settle in the UK permanently are still advised to apply for settled or pre-settled status as it is likely to be cheaper and simpler than other visa options.
What happens if my application is refused?
Each case will be considered individually, the Home Office said, but those with a history of persistent, serious offending may be subject to deportation.
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