Out-Law News 3 min. read

UK sets out plans for 'settled status' for EU workers

The application process for EU citizens who wish to obtain the right to remain in the UK after Brexit will be simpler than under the current 'free movement' rules, the UK government has claimed.

Individuals applying for the new 'settled status' will be asked to prove their identity and that they have been living in the UK for the past five years, and to declare that they have no serious criminal convictions, according to a 'statement of intent' published by the UK government. They will be able to apply entirely online via a government website or an app for tablets and smartphones, or to apply by post.

The government intends to charge a fee of £65 for applications, or £32.50 for children under 16. EU citizens who have already obtained permanent residence status or indefinite leave to remain in the UK will be able to exchange this for settled status free of charge.

The scheme will open in a phased way from later this year, subject to final agreement with the EU; and will be fully open by 30 March 2019, the government said.

Employment law expert Euan Smith of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, welcomed the "apparent simplicity and clarity" behind the proposed scheme.

"What is proposed is a very simple application process which appears to favour the applicant in most circumstances, and the eligibility criteria are more relaxed than under the current tests for 'permanent residence' status," he said. "That will be encouraging for many employees who were anxious about being able to stay in the UK following Brexit and are keen to take steps to secure their position."

"The concern for employers will be whether the Home Office has the back office infrastructure to enable the process to run smoothly. The government's promise is of an application process so simple it can be done using an app on your smartphone. This app is to connect seamlessly with other government agencies where records are kept which will enable caseworkers to quickly assess whether the applicant meets the necessary tests to qualify for settled status. This will be a significant technical and resourcing challenge: it will be complex to set up, and lots of staff will need to be available to deal with thousands of applications in a short time frame," he said.

Settled status will not be granted automatically, and every EU citizen who wishes to retain the right to live and work in the UK will be required to apply. It will be available to EU citizens who have been living in the UK continuously for five years before the end of the post-Brexit transition period, anticipated for 31 December 2020. Those who have not yet met the five-year residence requirement will be able to apply for 'pre-settled status', which they will be able to convert to settled status once they reach the five-year residence requirement for no additional fee.

Irish citizens will not be required to apply for settled status, as they have a separate right to UK residence. However, they will be able to do so if they choose. The government's intention is that the same scheme will be available to EEA citizens and Swiss citizens currently resident in the UK, depending on the outcome of current negotiations on reciprocal future rights for UK citizens.

Applicants will be required to provide a valid passport or ID card, either online or by post, to prove their identity. They will also be required to provide a passport-style photograph. The system will connect to UK employment and benefits records to provide evidence of the residence requirement, although applicants will be able to provide additional information where necessary. The system will also connect to UK criminality and security databases, and overseas criminal records checks will be performed manually where appropriate.

Immigration minister Caroline Noakes said that the government would be "looking to grant applications, not for reasons to refuse them" throughout the process. Caseworkers would also be able to use discretion in favour of the applicant to minimise administrative requirements. The government intends to set up a customer contact centre, and to provide user-friendly guidance to support applicants through the process.

The government is anticipating over 3.5 million applications under the scheme, which will close on 30 June 2021.

EU citizens granted settled status will be entitled to remain in the UK, with the same access to work, education, benefits and public services that they have now. They will also be entitled to bring "close family members", defined as spouses, civil partners and durable partners, dependent children and grandchildren and dependent parents and grandparents into the UK in future, provided that the relationship existed on 31 December 2020.

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