EU citizens will have to answer three “simple” questions online if they want to continue living in the UK after Brexit, the home secretary has said.
Sajid Javid said the government’s “default” position would be to grant, not refuse, settled status.
People will be asked to prove their ID, whether they have criminal convictions and whether they live in the UK.
Their answers will be checked against government databases and a decision given “very quickly”, said Mr Javid.
Speaking to a House of Lords committee, Mr Javid said there would have to be “a very good reason” why an application would be refused.
The Home Office said the criminal records check would be about “serious and persistent criminality, not parking fines” but applicants will be asked about their criminal histories overseas as well as in the UK.
Applications will cost £65 for adults and £32.50 for children and be free for EU nationals who have already applied for residency or indefinite leave to remain.
The £170m scheme will be compulsory for all 3.3 million EU citizens living in the UK – but the government expects a total of 3.5 million applications because the scheme also includes citizens of Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.
There would be two types of status granted:
- Settled status – for those who have lived in the UK for five years or more
- Pre-settled status – for those who have been in the UK less than five years
The scheme will operate online and via a smartphone app, Mr Javid said, and would be “as simple as people can reasonably expect”.
The government hopes to start trials of the scheme in June, with people allowed to start registering in the autumn.
Mr Javid told the Lords EU Justice sub-committee he wanted it to be fully operational by the “start of next year”, adding that he wanted to avoid a “surge” of applicants when the UK leaves the EU in March.
The scheme would run throughout the two-year transition period after Brexit day and beyond, said the home secretary, up to June 2021.
The hope is that most applicants will not have to provide supporting documents because their answers will be checked against government databases – such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions – as the system will be linked with those records.
But applicants without smartphones will have to send their passports in to the Home Office to verify their identity.
Applicants with Android phones will be able to download an app which can read the chip in their passport to verify their identity – and they will be able to take a “selfie” that can be checked against Home Office records, said Mr Javid.
But he said there was an “an issue at the moment” with Apple device users, who will not be able to make use of this app, and instead will have to send in their passport to prove their identity.
The home secretary said he had raised the issue with Apple on a recent visit to Silicon Valley and the company was “looking at it actively”.
Other details of how the scheme will work:
- Applicants without smartphones or computers will be able to fill in their application online at libraries and special contact centres
- Those without access to computers, or who are unable to use them, will be given assistance and may be visited at home by immigration officials
- Help with translation will also be offered
- Irish people will not need to apply for settled status but can do so if they wish to
- Indefinite leave to remain document holders will be able to swap it for settled status free of charge
- Those with pre-settled status will be able to obtain settled status without additional charge
Sajid Javid promised there would be no repeat of the Windrush scandal – which saw people who had lived in the UK for decades threatened with deportation because they did not have the right paperwork – for EU migrants, adding “lessons had been learned”.
The new “settled status” scheme would establish the right of EU migrants to remain in the UK, unlike in the case of Windrush families where there was only an assumption they had a right to stay, without any documentary proof, he told the committee.
Mr Javid also accused EU nations, such as France and Spain, of failing to match the UK’s progress on plans for expats after Brexit.
There are 3.8 million EU citizens in the UK, and about 900,000 UK citizens in the EU, according to ONS figures.
Both sides of the Brexit negotiations have resolved to secure the status of expats by the time the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
But any deal they reach will have to be ratified by the European Parliament and agreed to by member states.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal then the status of British citizens living in the EU member states is less certain.
The UK would expect member states to allow Britons living in the EU the same rights as it plans to grant EU citizens in the UK but it would be down to individual countries to decide what to do.