Brandon Lewis says ‘immigration rules will apply’ for those who fail to complete digital application
Credit: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment
EU citizens who do not secure immigration status by the deadline for the Home Office’s Brexit scheme could be subject to deportation, security minister Brandon Lewis has confirmed.
This is the first time the government has laid bare the consequences for European nationals that do not apply to the EU Settlement Scheme in time, despite Boris Johnson previously vowing to guarantee automatic rights for those affected.
Speaking to German media outlet Die Welt, Lewis said: “If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply.”
Pressed on whether this could mean deportation despite fulfilling all legal conditions for a residence permit, he added: “Theoretically, yes, we will apply the applicable rules.”
The security minister also said that the process – which gives EU citizens until 30 June 2021 to apply if the UK leaves with a deal, or 31 December 2020 in the event of no-deal – was designed so that “no citizen ever gets into this situation”.
Lewis’s comments come as Home Office figures revealed 1.5 million people had been granted status through the scheme out of 1.8 million applications received by the end of September.
The data also showed two people had been rejected on “suitability grounds”, and that “other outcomes” – withdrawn, invalid and void applications – made up 0.5% of applicants so far.
A successful application?
The online application process for settled status is most easily completed using the EU Exit ID Document Check app, which is currently only available on Android phones and tablets. Those who do not possess such a device have been advised that they can borrow one from a friend to scan their document, and can complete the rest of the application on their own PC or phone.
Applicants also have the option of posting their passport to the Home Office, or visiting one of the 88 document-scanning locations that the government has set up in local authority buildings around the UK.
For those without access to technology or the necessary skills, the government has also set up an assisted digital service. Assistance is provided at 194 locations around the UK, while home visits are also available in 68 towns and their surrounding area.
Once the process is complete, the status issued to successful applicants is also entirely digital. Information is recorded in individual user profiles stored on Home Office databases. Users can access their profile online by entering their passport number and date of birth, after which a one-off code will be sent to their email address or phone. The user can enter this code – or pass it on to potential employers or public-services providers – to demonstrate their status.
Select committees from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have warned the government that its refusal to issue any form of physical status creates a risk of repeating the suffering caused by the Windrush scandal. Despite repeated recommendations that it begin issuing hard-copy status documents, the Home Office has stood its ground, and insisted that a digital system is more secure.
The development of the digital system to support the Settlement Scheme has been one of government’s biggest and most high-profile technology projects of recent years. The government spent £63m on developing the software, it was revealed earlier this year, while hiring the necessary caseworkers and other staff required to deliver the programme cost a further £59m.
A spokesperson for the campaign group the3million, Maike Bohn, said: “We have pressed the government for years on what happens to those who do not have a status in 2021. Today, after much wait, it is confirmed that hundreds and thousands of people will be punished with the threat of removal from their home. This is no way to treat people, let alone what was promised.
“We don’t know at all how many people will need to apply – there are no reliable data on the number of EU citizens living in the UK – and there will never be a 100% success rate for a new scheme like the EU settlement scheme.
She added: “Those people who miss the tight deadline will face the full force of the Hostile Environment. That is the grim reality of the UK Government’s position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase ‘EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay’.”
Charities have also feared that vulnerable groups such children in care and those in “extreme old age” could be among those unable to meet the Home Office deadline for completing the digital application process.
The government has pledged £9 million to help vulnerable people such as the homeless, elderly and disabled apply to the scheme and Lewis speaking after the comments said ministers will “allow time” for those with “reasonable grounds for missing the deadline”.
He tweeted: “My words are somewhat taken out of context. EU citizens have till at least Dec 2020 and there’s plenty of help available to apply. We’ve now had two million applications and we’ve always said we’ll allow time for those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.”
A Home Office spokesperson added: “EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay. The EU Settlement Scheme is a free and easy way for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need. We have received two million applications and are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply. We’ve always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they’ll be given a further opportunity to apply.”