In February 2019, shortly after the launch of EU Settlement scheme for EU nationals to apply for their UK status, my colleagues and I visited one of our global media client’s offices to present on the new EU Settlement Scheme at a town hall meeting with all of their EU national employees.
We had signed up to take part in the Beta pilot of the EU Exit ID app, a ground breaking digital application process under which successful applicants would be given a new “digital only” status. As we were presenting on how to apply using the new system, one of our team took one of the EU employees to a separate meeting room and took them through the various steps of downloading the app, entering their details, taking a biometric facial scan and reading the biometric chip on their passport. By the end of the presentation and animated Q & A, less than an hour later, the employee was able to tell us that their application for settled status, based on five years of working in the UK, had been approved.
Just over three years later, and according to the Home Office Settlement Scheme statistics released on 11 June, the total number of those who had applied by the end of May 2021 was 5.6 million. Of those, 2,754,100 had been granted settled status and 2,276,200 pre-settled status with around 355,000 applications pending at the end of May. This is remarkable not only for the sheer volume of applications involved, but also as it significantly exceeds the numbers of between 3.5 -4.1 m EU nationals the Home Office initially estimated in March 2019.
Amongst all the criticisms of the EU referendum vote and its outcome, the fears of EU nationals about their future, the departure of large numbers from the UK, the loss of long held free movement rights for both UK and EU nationals, stories about unfair refusals and more recently, issues with admitting those with a digital status at the UK border, this is a pretty remarkable achievement. It has involved the development of an innovative digital immigration application process which not only dispensed with the need for applicants to travel to provide their biometrics, but also moved away from the production of the physical immigration documents which are normally issued to all other immigration status holders. It is very likely that using traditional visa application processes would have meant huge delays and backlogs as applications surged in the run up to the UK leaving the EU, the end of the transitional period and the end of the application grace period today.
But despite this achievement, the Home Office cannot sit on its laurels. Its next major challenges are threefold-firstly, to complete the processing of the surge of applications going in as I write. Secondly, to start considering the late applications from those who just missed the deadline. And thirdly , to consider the regularisation of the very late applicants including hard to reach communities, the elderly, children in care, those with physical or mental incapacity or those who were stuck outside the UK due to COVID and did not know they could apply whilst abroad. There will be many of these.
This is not a an issue that will be with us for the next few weeks and months after the end of the grace period-it will be with us for a number of years. How the Home Office deals with these cases will be the true test of whether it has learned from its failures in the Windrush scandal and that it has what is really needed to complete the last chapter of the end of EU free movement in the UK-flexibility, generosity and humanity.
For further information on any issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our Immigration team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Rollason heads our Immigration team and advises on all areas of UK immigration and nationality law. He has particular expertise in providing strategic advice to businesses on their global immigration needs. He is regularly consulted by the UK immigration authorities on proposed changes to the UK immigration rules and policy.