Theresa May sets out policy paper that says 3m EU citizens resident in Britain must reapply for ‘settled status’ under new regime
All 3 million EU citizens resident in Britain will have to apply for inclusion on a “settled status” register if they want to stay in the country after Brexit under Home Office proposals.
A 15-page policy paper proposes a “light touch” online system to process applications that will give applicants the same “indefinite leave to remain” status as many non-European nationals who have also lived in Britain for five years.
The EU “settled status” residence proposals could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register. It has yet to be decided whether the residence document for “settled status” EU citizens will be issued as an identity card or simply exist as an entry on a Home Office database.
The policy paper was published as Theresa May issued a statement detailing the government’s proposals on EU citizens’ rights after the UK leaves the bloc.
After May’s statement, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted a sceptical response, saying: “More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s UK position.”
The policy paper reveals that EU nationals who have applied for permanent residency status documents since the referendum – thought to number more than 150,000 – will be asked to apply again, albeit in a streamlined process. Those who have been asked previously to show evidence of comprehensive sickness insurance will no longer have to do so.
The UK offer on the rights of EU nationals makes clear that after Brexit they will lose their right to bring in a spouse to live in Britain unless an £18,600 minimum income threshold is met.
Announcing the UK offer in the House of Commons, May said those EU nationals who had “settled status” would have the same rights as British citizens to bring family members into the UK, but she did not mention the £18,600 threshold condition. EU nationals are currently exempt from the minimum income threshold, an immigration rule that supreme court judges have described as “particularly harsh”.
The plans could see EU citizens in the UK losing voting rights in British local elections. They will also lose the protection of the European court of justice, which will no longer have jurisdiction over citizens’ rights in the UK. But apart from these exceptions, their “settled status” will give them the right to live in Britain, to undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and to apply for British citizenship.
The UK offer includes guarantees on UK pensions including on uprating and aggregated rights paid out abroa,d and the ability of settled EU nationals to continue to have social security benefits, such as child benefit, paid in other EU countries.
But several key areas – including healthcare, professional qualifications and the rights of the self-employed – are put in a negotiating category of “seek to ensure continuity” rather than a unilateral guarantee from the UK.
The Home Office said it wanted to avoid a “cliff edge” in applications the day after Brexit, and so would grant a period of up two years’ grace for EU nationals who could demonstrate five continuous years of residence in Britain.
The Home Office said it would make a blanket assumption that all EU citizens in Britain on the yet to be agreed cutoff date would be given temporary leave under British immigration law. There will be a provision for EU citizens to apply voluntarily before Brexit, but it will only be mandatory after the cutoff date. Those who fail to apply within the two-year grace period will no longer have permission to remain in the UK.
The application process is to use existing Department for Work and Pensions-HMRC income and wage records to minimise the need for applicants to supply documents such as wage slips going back years. It is expected that most applications will be “straightforward”, but the Home Office, which processes millions of visa applications each year, admits that the task will be challenging.
The system will also allow those who arrive before the cutoff date to build up five years’ continuous residence after Brexit, but people who arrive after the cutoff point will be subject to the new immigration regime. The Home Office said it had a broad range of options under consideration and would publish proposals shortly.
In the Commons, May was forced to deny that families would be broken up as a result of Brexit. Her denial came in the face of sustained Labour questioning over the implications of applying the minimum income threshold to EU nationals.
“No families will be split up. Family dependents who join a qualifying EU citizen here before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years,” the prime minister said. “After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.”
But legal experts said the decision meant that EU nationals would lose their entitlement to be joined by family members, including parents, without a financial means test and with minimal fees.
Charlie Pring of the law firm Taylor Wessing said: “In contrast, British citizens find that their non-EU family members have to pay much higher visa fees, pay into the NHS and meet a strict income test … and that it is almost impossible to arrange visas for parents or other extended family members.” Pring added that had led to the separation of many families.
May, however, said the package on EU citizens’ rights would offer certainty for the 3 million EU nationals residing in the UK and those who qualified for settled status would be “treated the same as if they were UK citizens for healthcare, benefits and pensions”.