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1.1. The Government values highly the contribution that EU citizens and their family members have made to the UK and the many ways in which they have enriched our society. We want those who have chosen to make their home in this country to stay here permanently. This Statement of Intent sets out the basis of the EU Settlement Scheme we plan to open from later this year to enable them to do so.
1.2. Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK and ensuring reciprocal protections for UK nationals living in the EU was our first priority for the negotiations with the EU. We, therefore, welcome the fact that we have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights and this has been formalized in the draft text of the Withdrawal Agreement, published on 19 March 2018
1.3. We know that certainty and security of status are important. So we want to make it as easy as possible for EU citizens and their family members in the UK to secure their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement through a simple, online process.
1.4. Under the agreement EU citizens and their family members resident here before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 will be able to continue to live and work in the UK permanently. Their rights to healthcare, work arrangements and access to benefits will continue, and their existing close family members currently living outside the UK will be able to join them here in future in the same way as they can now.
1.5. The agreement also covers what happens during the period immediately after the UK leaves the EU, known as the implementation period. This period will run from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020. The agreement with the EU extends the same protections to EU citizens and their family members arriving in the UK during the implementation period. This ensures that those planning to come to the UK after March next year know what the arrangements will be, and so do their employers.
1.6. In line with the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the EU Settlement Scheme set out in this Statement of Intent will mean that:
- EU citizens and their family members who, by 31 December 2020, have been continuously resident in the UK for five years will be eligible for ‘settled status’, enabling them to stay indefinitely.
- EU citizens and their family members who arrive by 31 December 2020, but will not yet have been continuously resident here for five years, will be eligible for ‘pre-settled status’, enabling them to stay until they have reached the five-year threshold. They can then also apply for settled status, where they have remained continuously resident here (see paragraph 3.4, below) and, from April 2019, free of charge (see paragraph 4.6, below).
- EU citizens and their family members with settled status or pre-settled status will have the same access as they currently do to healthcare, pensions and other benefits in the UK, according to the same rules as now.
- Close family members (a spouse, civil partner, durable partner, dependent child or grandchild, and dependent parent or grandparent) living overseas will still be able to join an EU citizen resident here after the end of the implementation period, where the relationship existed on 31 December 2020 and continues to exist when the person wishes to come to the UK. Future children are also protected (see paragraph 2.5, below).
1.7. This will enable EU citizens and their family members living in the UK to continue their lives here much as before, as reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement, with the same entitlements to work (subject to any relevant occupational requirements), study and access public services and benefits, according to the same rules as now. It is a fair and comprehensive deal which respects the rights that individuals are exercising based on life choices they made before the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It will provide them with certainty about their future rights and, most importantly, allow them to stay in the country where they are now living.
1.8. In addition, the Government has committed to incorporate the agreement covering the UK’s withdrawal from the EU fully into UK law and make sure that citizens can rely directly on the citizens’ rights part of the agreement. To do this, the Government will introduce in Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill. This will mean that the practical arrangements we make for EU citizens and their family members to apply for their new UK immigration status will have, then and in the future, to reflect in full the agreement on citizens’ rights reached with the EU.
1.9. The draft Withdrawal Agreement sets out that citizens’ rights are to be monitored in the UK by a new Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA). Primary legislation will be required to create the IMA. Ahead of that, the implementation of the EU Settlement Scheme will be monitored by the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration (ICIBI). The ICIBI inspects all elements of the UK borders and immigration system, and is independent of the Home Office, providing impartial reports for the Home Secretary which are laid in Parliament.
1.10. Whilst the agreement with the EU does not cover the citizens of the non-EU European Economic Area states (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) and Switzerland, we have been clear that we want to secure a similar deal for citizens of these states living in the UK and for UK nationals living there. Talks with all four states are progressing well and pending final agreement being reached with each on the detail of the arrangements, the Government intends that the scheme described in this Statement of Intent will be open to other EEA citizens and Swiss citizens (and their family members) on a similar basis as for EU citizens.
1.11. The rest of this document sets out how the Government intends that the EU Settlement Scheme for EU citizens and their family members will work in practice, and includes a draft of the Immigration Rules by which it is proposed that the scheme will operate, so that we can discuss the detailed arrangements for the scheme with our user groups and other stakeholders. The draft Rules are necessarily technical: they are secondary legislation and they need to cater for a wide variety of individual circumstances, but only a subset of the Rules will apply to each individual. The Immigration Rules for the scheme which are laid before Parliament in due course may differ from the approach set out in this document and in the draft Rules which it contains, including in light of those discussions. As well as the Immigration Rules, we will need to lay regulations before Parliament to enable us to take and securely process biometrics from applicants and to set the level of the fees for the scheme.
1.12. The EU Settlement Scheme will be delivered through a streamlined, digital application process which will be implemented from late 2018 so that EU citizens and their family members can begin to obtain their new UK immigration status at their earliest convenience. However, EU citizens and their family members will not be required to apply immediately; there will be no change to their current rights until the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020, and the deadline for applications to the scheme by those residents here by the end of 2020 will be 30 June 2021.
1.13. We are designing the online application form for the scheme so that it is short, simple and user-friendly. It will be accessible by computer, tablet or smartphone using internet browsers. There will be three core criteria which applicants will need to meet:
- Identity – verifying their identity and nationality, generally through (for any applicant) their passport, or (for EU citizens) their national identity card or (for non-EU citizens) a biometric residence card or biometric residence permit.
- Eligibility – establishing that the applicant is resident in the UK and, if appropriate, is a family member of an eligible EU citizen. Where possible, the application process will help the applicant to establish their continuous residence here and whether it amounts to the five years generally required for settled status, on an automated basis using data held by HM Revenue & Customs and in due course also the Department for Work and Pensions. This will keep the documentary evidence the applicant is required to provide to a minimum in most cases, but applicants will be able to upload additional evidence to fill in gaps in residence or where there is no government data. Applicants who have been resident in the UK for less than five years at the date of application will generally be eligible for pre-settled status. The application process we are designing will be particularly straightforward for applicants for settled status who already hold a valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain document.
- Suitability (criminality) – the overwhelming majority of EU citizens and their family members have made a positive contribution to the UK and will be unaffected by this criterion. But it is right that we identify any serious or persistent criminals or anyone who poses a security threat, to protect all of us who live in the UK. We will, therefore, conduct checks against UK criminality and security databases and conduct overseas criminal records checks as appropriate.
1.14. Establishing whether an applicant holds a valid identity document is crucial to minimizing fraud and abuse, but we recognize that being without an identity document for a significant period can impact on people’s lives. For those who wish to complete the application entirely online, there will be an optional app which will allow EU citizens to confirm the relevant details remotely using a mobile phone or tablet so that they do not need to send us the physical document. We are exploring options to enable people to attend a location where they could use the identity verification app or be helped to do so. More details about this will be published over the summer. Those who do not wish to or cannot use the app, or whose identity document is not compatible with it, will need to send us the document by post. We are establishing a dedicated team to check these documents and we will aim to return them to the applicant as soon as we can, to avoid delays if other aspects of the application need further consideration. Our services will also include an assisted digital service for those who need support to make an online application.
1.15. The Home Office will work with applicants to help them avoid any errors or omissions that may impact on the application decision. Caseworkers will have scope to engage with applicants and give them a reasonable opportunity to submit supplementary evidence or remedy any deficiencies where it appears a simple omission has taken place. A principle of evidential flexibility will apply, enabling caseworkers to exercise discretion in favor of the applicant where appropriate, to minimize administrative burdens. User-friendly guidance will be available online to guide applicants through each stage of the application process.
1.16. The Home Office is designing the EU Settlement Scheme with input from users to ensure it is as streamlined and effective as possible. We will continue to discuss it at our monthly meetings with stakeholders which have been running since the autumn, consisting of EU citizen representative groups and community groups, the EU27 embassies and consulates in the UK and the European Commission, employers and legal practitioners, as well as with our new group which particularly focuses on the needs of vulnerable users. In addition, these representatives have nominated individuals to test the prototypes of the application process in one-to-one sessions, so that we can learn from their experiences. This individual user testing will continue as we develop the application process.
1.17. The publication of this Statement of Intent and the draft Immigration Rules will enable us to discuss the details of the scheme with stakeholders. We will also use their feedback to inform what we publish online, including the scheme application guidance which we plan to publish in English and also in the other 23 official languages of the EU.
1.18. An application under the scheme will cost £65 (the same as the current fee for a permanent residence document), which will part-fund the cost of the scheme. For children under the age of 16, the fee will be £32.50. Where an applicant is granted pre-settled status under the scheme, there will, from April 2019, be no fee when they apply for settled status, generally, once they have accumulated five years’ continuous residence. We will send a reminder to people to do so before their pre-settled status (five years’ limited leave to remain) expires. Applications will also be free of charge for those previously issued a permanent residence document or granted indefinite leave to remain (see paragraph 4.6, below).
1.19. There will be plenty of time – until 30 June 2021, six months after the implementation period ends on 31 December 2020 – for all those resident here by 31 December 2020 to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and they will remain protected by the Withdrawal Agreement pending the outcome of such an application made by 30 June 2021. Close family members joining an EU citizen here after 31 December 2020 will have three months from their arrival in which to make an application for status under the scheme (or until 30 June 2021 if they arrive before 1 April 2021). We have agreed with the EU that, where someone misses the deadline for their application for a good reason, they will be given a reasonable further period in which to apply.
1.20. There will be more information shortly on when the EU Settlement Scheme will be open and how to apply. We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, but the Home Office already issues around seven million passports and three million visas each year and so processing applications on the scale required are feasible, providing we get the scheme design and the communications right. As is now standard for the launch of new services in government, there will be a private beta phase to enable us to test the system and processes at scale and ensure that they work effectively, followed by a phased roll-out from late 2018. We will set out further details of this over the summer. The scheme will be open fully by 30 March 2019.
1.21. In the meantime, there is no need for EU citizens and their family members who are here before the UK withdraws from the EU on 29 March 2019 to seek residence documentation now under current free movement rules, unless they intend to apply for British citizenship as soon as they are eligible to do so or they wish to sponsor their family member’s visa application under the Immigration Rules.
1.22. The draft Withdrawal Agreement also protects the rights of EU citizens who are frontier working in the UK (that is who are working here and resident elsewhere) before the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 (and their resident family members). They may continue to frontier work in the UK. They may be resident in the UK for sufficient periods in the course of their work here to be eligible for the scheme. They may otherwise be subject to a requirement to obtain a document to evidence their right to enter the UK and work as a frontier worker from that date. Further details will be provided in due course.