This week’s big Brexit story is the government’s announcement about the criteria for allowing EU citizens to stay in the UK.
People will have to answer three “simple” questions and pay £65 to be allowed to carry on living in Britain after we leave the EU.
But is the process really as simple as it looks? FactCheck finds out.
Britain is set to formally leave the EU at 11pm on the 29th of March, 2019.
But, to begin with, there won’t be much change. That’s because the UK will enter a “Transition Period”, rather than dropping out of the EU system straight away.
During this period, UK and EU citizens will be able to travel around Europe as normal.
But EU citizens who are moving to Britain (rather than just having a quick holiday) will need to register. But their right to stay won’t be affected.
This Transition Period lasts until the end of 2020.
After the Transition Period
EU citizens who are in the UK before 2021 can apply for Settled Status – which will allow them to continue living here.
That includes anyone who is in the UK before midnight on 31 December 2020.
Irish citizens do not need to apply, though (although some may want to, for various reason). Their right to stay in the UK is not affected by Brexit.
But it will be a legal requirement for others who wish to stay. Applying will also mean they continue to receive the same entitlements and benefits as they do now.
Successful applicants’ existing close relatives, who still live overseas when the Transition Period ends, will also be able to move to the UK at any point in the future.
Applying for Settled Status
Applications for Settled Status will first open in late 2018, before being rolled out fully in 2019. It will cost £65 for adults to apply, and £32.50 for children under 16.
People will be asked for proof of identity and residence, and disclose whether they have criminal convictions.
Any EU citizens living in Britain before the end of 2020 will be eligible. But applications will be open for another six months after that.
Although this gives people extra time to apply, those who leave their application until 2021 may find it more tricky. This is because they will need to prove they had already arrived in Britain by 2020, or earlier.
Who will be granted Settled Status?
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has said: “We will be looking to grant, not for reasons to refuse, and caseworkers will be able to exercise discretion in favour of applicants where appropriate.”
So what barriers might EU citizens face in obtaining Settled Status?
The government says there are only two reasons why people won’t be allowed to stay in the UK. Either, if they can’t prove they were in the country before 2021. Or if they are considered to be “serious or persistent criminals, or anyone who poses a security threat”.
Successful applicants will will either be granted Settled Status, or Pre-Settled Status.
Settled Status will be given if authorities are satisfied that, by 31 December 2020, the person will have been living in the UK for at least five years.
Government statements suggest that most people won’t need to provide the documents to prove this themselves – instead, authorities will simply check official records held by HMRC and the DWP.
But official guidance says: “Applicants will be able to upload additional evidence to fill in gaps in residence or where there is no government data.”
The government says it will consider evidence such as an annual bank statement, or a dated and signed letter from an employer. Other types of evidence are listed in this report.
However, the government claims: “The guidance will not be prescriptive or definitive, so that we can take account of individuals’ specific circumstances.
“We recognise that some applicants may lack documentary evidence in their own name for various reasons, and we will work flexibly with applicants to help them evidence their continuous residence in the UK by the best means available to them.”
But those who haven’t been living in the UK for five years (or can’t prove it) will still be granted Pre-Settled Status.
This means they can carry on living here while they clock up the five years needed to then apply for Settled Status. During this time, they will continue to have the same access to UK healthcare, pensions and benefits as they currently do.
But regardless of how long they have been in the UK, all applicants will need to provide proof of identity and nationality. For most people, this would be a valid EU passport or national identity card.
This means that anyone who cannot get access to valid ID is likely to struggle with the application.
Who else might lose out?
Campaigners have raised especially about vulnerable groups of EU citizens, such as homeless people, children in care, and those with mental health issues.
There are also questions about accessibility.
The application is online only, so it may be extra challenging for those who don’t have a computer or are not computer-literate. The government has said applicants will be able to send documents and evidence via post and will set up “an assisted digital service for those who need support to make an online application”.
“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.”
So far, there is also not much information available about what support will be available for EU citizens who don’t speak English. The government has pledged to publish the application guidance in all 24 official languages of the EU, but it is not clear yet if other languages will also be available, including Welsh which is an official language in Wales.
It’s also not clear what languages the application itself will be available in – or what support there will be for those with learning difficulties or mental health issues.