Exclusive: Here's what the new Brexit application process for EU citizens will look like

  • The UK faces the huge and complex task of registering over 3.6 million EU nationals ahead of Brexit so they can apply for ‘settled status’. It says a new, digital system will make the process much easier.
  • In an exclusive preview of the new system, BI spoke to a person tasked with test-running the new registration app which is being designed to register EU citizens – which is still in its testing phase.
  • We also spoke to two people who the UK government has briefed on some details of the registration process.
  • Here’s how the application process is likely to work.

LONDON – The UK faces the enormous task of registering over 3.6 million EU nationals ahead of Brexit so they can apply to remain in the country. Theresa May’s government has not yet publicly spelled out exactly how they plan to achieve this. However, the Home Office insists that plans are in place to create a new “digital, streamlined, user-friendly scheme” for European citizens which safeguards their right to stay in the UK by granting them ‘settled status.’

So what will this new system look like? Business Insider has spoken to several people familiar with the process to build a picture of how it is likely to look.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new Brexit application process for EU citizens.

The smartphone app

Last week EU citizens expressed alarm after the Home Office admitted that the new smartphone application for registering EU citizens’ ‘settled status’ in the UK, wouldn’t work on iPhones, something European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator raised concerns about with new Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday.

How would the vast numbers of people without access to an Android-operated phone be able to register? What about people without chips in their passport?

First things first: The Home Office is keen to emphasise that the app is only one part of a much wider new system, albeit one that’s received the bulk of media coverage.

The app will be able to scan passports with biometric chips which instantly upload a user’s data to the cloud. But there will also be non-digital options available, the Home Office said, likely to be similar to the ones that currently exist for visa extensions and permanent citizenship applications.

“Technology will play an important role in making applications simple but this is only part of the process for those who choose to use it, and there will be alternative non-digital routes available to all applicants to prove their identity,” a Home Office spokesperson told BI.

How will the app work?

Brexit Remain protestJeff J Mitchell / Getty

That said, the app will be an important part of the registration process for many people as it will allow those with the right technology to identify themselves almost instantly. One EU citizen asked to test-run the app, which remains in its pilot phase, told BI how it currently works:

1. When you open the app, you will be asked to answer some basic questions: Your name, whether you’re an EU national, whether you live in the UK, and whether you have a criminal record.

2. You will then be asked to provide documentation proving your identity. If your passport contains a biometric chip, you will be able to scan it using an Android phone’s built-in scanning software. Apple doesn’t allow third-party apps to use that software, which means the app won’t work on iPhones, a problem the Home Office revealed in a meeting with MEPs this week.

The person who tested the app said their passport was recognised and scanned by the phone almost instantly.

3. You will then be asked to take a selfie, which appears to be for the purpose of verifying that you are who say you are.

If you are unable to access an Android phone, it will be possible to revert to more old-fashioned methods of proving your identity, such as posting a passport or ID card to a processing centre.

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What happens next?

Sajid JavidGettyThe Home Secretary Sajid Javid

Once an individual has been identified, their application will be passed to a caseworker in Liverpool.

Usually, the burden of proof falls on the individual applicant to prove their right to remain in the UK, by providing extensive documentation. The new system places that responsibility on the government instead.

Business Insider understands that the Home Office will use data from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work & Pensions, council records, and other government data to prove how long they have been resident in the UK. Residents will need to prove they have lived in the UK for five years in order to be granted settled status.

The status of children of will likely be determined by establishing their relationship to an adult with a permanent record of residency. Further details of that aspect of the scheme will be made clear in the summer, the Home Office said.

Criminal checks

The Home Office says this has already been decided, and indeed it formed part of the December and March agreements struck between the UK and EU.

Any deportations or refusals on the grounds of criminality will be in line with EU law up to and including the implementation period, which is scheduled to last until December 2020.

The agreement means only criminals who can be deported under EU law will have their applications refused. As one person familiar with the plans pointed out, it’s highly likely that criminals who are liable to be deported under EU law are already on the Home Office’s radar, meaning that the application process is unlikely to directly result in criminals being deported.

After the transition period ends in December 2020, criminals from EU states will likely be subject to the same rigorous UK deportation rules as criminals from the rest of the world.

How will marginalised groups be able to register?

When representatives from the3million, an EU citizens’ rights group, met immigration minister Caroline Nokes last month, one of the three primary concerns they raised was the potential difficulties faced by vulnerable groups of people who seek to apply for settled status.

A Home Office spokesperson told Business Insider that they “are planning a range of support for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and families, victims of domestic violence and those with English language difficulties.”

“We are well aware of the challenges of ensuring that three million EU citizens and their family members living here understand the need to apply and have the ability to,” the spokesperson said.

However, exactly what form that “range of support” will take remains to be seen.

Will it actually work?

Theresa MayCarl Court / Getty

A host of problems remain for the Home Office, and there remain significant doubts among EU citizens whether a department known for its blunders, particularly on IT-related projects, is capable of registering such a large number of citizens in such a short amount of time.

In its broadest sense, EU nationals say the ‘settled status’ scheme amounts to a loss of rights from the arrangement they currently possess under the EU’s freedom of movement rules. It also falls far short of granting them full British citizenship.

Other significant concerns include the fact many people are likely simply not to register, either because they are scared of having their applications rejected, or unaware that they are required to do so. Among a group of 3.6 million people, the chances are that large numbers will inevitably fall through the cracks. What then happens to those individuals?

As Business Insider reported last week, EU citizens living in the UK could become the next victims of the so-called “hostile environment” immigration policies which have hit the ‘Windrush generation’ of Caribbean-born UK citizens.

That policy aims to crack down on illegal immigration by making life as difficult as possible for people who lack sufficient documentation to prove their residency in the UK, but in practice saw people being threatened with deportation, and left destitute despite being legally resident in Britain.

These and other serious questions hang over the immense bureaucratic task facing the Home Office. Until full details of the registration scheme are released, those questions will remain.

Our Brexit Insider Facebook group is the best place for up-to-date news and analysis about Britain’s departure from the EU, direct from Business Insider’s political reporters. Join here.

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