The Government has published guidance on what the settled status registration scheme for EU citizens in the UK will look like.
What is the EU settlement scheme?
The scheme will allow EU citizens and their family members currently living in the UK, and those who arrive before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, to continue living, working, studying and accessing benefits and public services in the UK after Brexit. Existing close family members living overseas will be able to join them in the future.
What will it look like in practice?
To qualify for the scheme, individuals will need to prove their identity and nationality, whether they have serious criminal convictions, and whether they live in the UK. There will be no requirement to prove that you have been working or exercising other rights under EU law. Comprehensive sickness insurance is also not required.
Those who have lived in the UK continuously for five years or longer will be granted settled status, while those who have arrived more recently will get pre-settled status. Pre-settled status will include all the same rights as settled status, but they will only become permanent once five years of continuous residence can be shown.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has promised that the Home Office “will not be looking for excuses to not grant settled status”, and that the process will be “as simple as people can reasonably expect”.
Registration can be done online through phones, tablets, laptops and computers. Support will be provided for those without computers or with computer literacy issues. Where possible, the Government will use existing employment and benefits records to prove residency, so applicants will not need to provide supporting documents. Where this is not possible, proof of residence will need to be documented; the Government says they will accept a wide range of documents and the “default” position will be in favour of the applicant.
At-risk workers and victims of trafficking
There are over three million EU citizens currently living and working in the UK. Ensuring that everyone is registered within the stated time limit will be a monumental task. It will require proactive steps by the Home Office to reach individuals who might otherwise fall through the cracks, including at-risk workers and victims of trafficking. Barriers to registering can vary widely from language and literacy challenges to situations of trafficking, domestic violence, or homelessness. The Migration Observatory have published a report detailing who might struggle to register and why.
The Home Office is consulting with organisations like FLEX to understand what might be barriers to registration and how people can best be supported through the process. One of the issues FLEX and others have raised is the cost for those registering, which will be £65 for adults and half that for children. While this may be moderate compared to other immigration documents (the excessive costs of which are currently under review by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration), workers in precarious and/or low-income employment, especially those with children and other dependents, will face barriers affording registration. To ensure that all EU nationals are able to register, the fee should be waived or significantly reduced.
Another concern is that people currently in trafficking situations, or who have just exited trafficking situations, may either miss the deadline for registration or may not be able to show proof of residence, as they will not have had control over their documents. FLEX is seeking assurance that all victims of trafficking, including those who opt out of entering the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) - the UK system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery - and therefore do not acquire official recognition of their victim status, will have pathways to settlement, including post-deadline.
Those working in isolated areas, such as agricultural workers, may also face difficulties producing proof of residence, as they are likely to have lived in mobile caravan accommodation for several seasons. Some may also be highly dependent on their employers for information and documentation. Live-in domestic workers and carers may similarly be reliant on employers for information and other documents to serve as proof of residence. This dependency may increase people’s risk to exploitation.
The settlement rules are designed to ensure that everyone resident in the UK before the end of transition will at minimum receive pre-settled status. The challenge, however, will be to ensure that everyone entitled to full settled status receives it. It will be much easier for people to prove that they live in the UK at the point of application, than to prove long-term residence. It is crucial that the Home Office continues to provide support to EU migrants with pre-settled status to ensure that they receive settled status after five years in the UK.