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The Home Office offers a fluffy environment for EU citizens in search of settled status

Getting EU citizens' status right would be a big step in restoring confidence that the department can run a new migration system after Brexit.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid today set out details of the process to assure EU residents in the UK of their new status. Jill Rutter welcomes this change in tone and approach.

The Home Office’s track record of refusing to grant UK citizenship based on technicalities led to EU negotiators and the European Parliament adding conditions to the December agreement on citizens’ rights. At the time, every case of wrongful rejection went viral: from the academic turned down because they had done a job abroad consulting for the UK Government, to the carer turned down because they had not taken out comprehensive sickness assurance.

So the EU negotiators placed restrictions on the charges the UK could impose. They also insisted on oversight by an “independent monitoring authority” and keeping the European Court of Justice in play for a further eight years after Brexit. The Home Office insisted that its approach to settled status would be different.

The Home Office appears to be making good on its promise of a cheaper, slicker process

Publishing the consultation on the new settled status process, the Home Office seems to be true to its word. Importantly, the proposed new process seems to establish a presumption to grant rather than refuse – and moves much of the burden from the citizen to the state. 

Databases will be matched. For example, where HM Revenue and Customs shows someone has a long record of paying taxes in the UK, they will not be required to dig back through their own records. People who already have ‘permanent residence’ or ‘indefinite leave to remain’ will be able to swap one status for another – free of charge. For others, the cost will be less than a UK passport (though more than just coming here now). Minimising the number of people who have to send their passports off to the Home Office (and find them sitting there for weeks or months) is another big improvement.

Gone too will be the need for comprehensive sickness insurance which caught a lot of people unawares.

The Home Office will give discretion to its officials

Insisting on the letter of eligibility – and removing the ability of caseworkers to make judgements – seemed to be one of the reasons the Home Office ended up making hard to defend decisions in the Windrush cases

Now, the new process puts more onus on the caseworkers being able to exercise judgement for people who find it too hard to comply with the letter of the requirements but look as though they meet the spirit of compliance rules. A key question for the Home Office will be the training and guidance it gives to those caseworkers – many of whom will necessarily be new recruits.

The vital thing will be to establish rapid feedback mechanisms to nip any differences in practice in the bud. The failure to detect a pattern emerging was one reason Home Office ministers and officials were caught looking flat-footed over Windrush.

Getting this right could restore confidence in the Home Office

The Home Office has made a good start in publishing this consultation and being ready to test its new system – but it needs to be willing to listen to the responses as well. The Migration Observatory is already raising the issue of the vulnerable groups who will not be downloading their apps on day one – and expressing concern about how people will be able to prove their settled status to employers or landlords when it is simply lodged in a Home Office database.

The Home Office has not had a good 2018. But if it can get a new and efficient system set up and convince EU citizens there will be an easy and fair system, it would be a big step in restoring confidence that the department can run a new migration system after Brexit.  

It also allows the UK to be on the front foot in insisting on fair treatment of UK citizens living in EU countries. It was notable that today Sajid Javid decided he was the answer to the question of which British minister is championing their cause – something to date seemed which to be left to European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt.

But this all still depends on there being a withdrawal agreement to implement. The one thing the Home Office is silent on is what happens to EU citizens if there isn’t one.

Country (international)
European Union
Home secretary
Home Office
Public figures
Sajid Javid
Institute for Government

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