- EU citizens could be deterred from applying to remain in the UK after Brexit due to fears over how the UK government will use information collected during the application process.
- The Home Office has refused repeated requests from privacy and transparency campaigners to reveal information about the new settled status scheme for EU citizens living in the UK.
- Around 3 million EU citizens currently live in the country.
- Campaigners suggest government secrecy about the issue could be breaking the law.
LONDON – The UK government is refusing to reveal how it will use data collected from EU citizens applying to remain in the UK after Brexit, leading to fears that vulnerable groups could be deterred from applying.
There are around three million EU citizens living in the UK who are potentially eligible to remain.
However, the Home Office has refused multiple requests by campaigners for information on how it plans to use the information collected as part of its new “settled status” scheme.
This has led to fears among groups representing EU citizens in the UK, that some individuals could be denied the right to remain, or offered the wrong residency status, without being able to see the grounds on which the decision was made.
Campaigners fear that the lack of transparency risks deterring some applicants from applying to the system altogether, which is already one of the biggest concerns around the system.
“As it stands, applicants receive no information how their data is being processed or stored, or how it might later be used,” Amy Shepherd, policy and legal officer at the Open Rights Group (ORG), an organisation which campaigns for digital rights, told Business Insider.
“That is all putting barriers up to people who are feeling nervous about applying,” Shepherd said.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The Immigration Minister confirmed this week that we would publish the MOUs with HMRC and DWP when the scheme goes live including guidance on how the automated data checks work.
“The Home Office takes its data protection and data security obligations very seriously. All our data activity must be compliant with data protection legislation.
“We want to reassure applicants that we do not allow access to their information by any unauthorised person or body, and may only share data where it is necessary and where we have a legal basis for doing so.”
The Home Office has confirmed that it will take data from two other government departments – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work & Pensions – which will be processed using an algorithm which will either accept or reject applicants.
However, the UK government has refused to publish details of how this cross-governmental automated checking will work, saying only that it will not retain data from other government departments that have been used to make the decision.
The so-called “memorandum of understanding” between the Home Office and HMRC also shows that the department will seek a wide range of information, some of which is not necessary to prove residency.
Transparency campaigners are pushing for the government to reveal how the data will be used.
“Unless there’s something very odd going on, it really wouldn’t be that difficult for the Home Office to publish far more information about how it has designed the system and the rationale it is using, as well as the individual data the applicants are being assessed on,” Philip Booth, a data transparency campaigner who published a report on data use in the the settled status scheme, told BI.
Campaigners also suggest that the Home Office scheme could be breaching official privacy rules and be unlawful.
“The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018 requires the Home Office to process data in a transparent manner,” the Open Rights Group said in a briefing.
“Making decisions in reliance on output from automated data checks without scrutinising these is likely to constitute unlawful delegation of powers,” the briefing said.
The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has also warned that vulnerable individuals who do not have documents or are unable to access those documents could be wrongly rejected by the Home Office.
Around 3.7 million EU citizens living in the UK will have to apply for the right to remain in the country after it leaves the EU under the settled status scheme. In order to qualify for settled status, applicants will need to have lived in the country for at least five years.
Those who have not will be granted pre-settled status and can subsequently be granted settled status once they have been resident for five years. The scheme is scheduled to be fully rolled out on March 30.
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