More than 600,000 EU citizens have already applied to stay in the UK post-Brexit, Home Office figures reveal.
But the settled status scheme for EU citizens seeking to remain has room for improvement, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) in the UK has said.
David Bolt made seven recommendations to improve the scheme, with more attention needed for vulnerable applicants and those who want to challenge a decision by the Home Office.
His remarks came as the Home Office revealed the results from the first three testing phases of the settled status phone app between August 2018 and April.
According to the report, of the 200,000 applications made during the scheme’s pilot phase, “zero” had resulted in a refusal.
The application system for EU nationals seeking to remain in the UK was described by the former home secretary Amber Rudd as being “as easy as setting up an online account at LK Bennett”.
EU citizens wishing to stay in the UK must apply for settled status by June 2021 in the event of a Brexit deal and December 2020 in the event of no deal.
The Home Office indicated it was pleased with the results, with 95% of applicants successfully proving their identity using the app across 987 phone brands. It said 75% were able to do so in under 10 minutes.
But there were also teething problems, with confusion among some applicants who already believed they had permanent residency documents, and challenges in more than 100 cases on the decision to grant “pre-settled status”, which is for EU nationals who have been living in the country for fewer than five years, rather than “settled status”.
Data shows that the most applications came from Romanian nationals, (37,742), followed by those from Italy (28,575) and Poland (28,214). There were 11,583 from France and 10,825 from Germany, two of the EU’s founding states.
Bolt said EU citizens’ post-Brexit plight presented the Home Office with the opportunity to show it was a department that could be trusted, after it was heavily criticised over the Windrush scandal.
“The challenge is also one of effective communication, against a climate of mistrust of the Home Office’s intentions and of its competence,” he said.
“It is not lost on the Home Office that the scheme is an opportunity to demonstrate what it is capable of achieving,” he said in the report, which was published on Wednesday.
His review of the pilot phase found areas for improvement and said the onus was on the Home Office, not the applicants, to ensure vulnerable people were not excluded from the scheme through lack of capacity to apply or knowledge of the scheme.
Charities have raised concerns about older people, those without smartphones, children in local authority care and people with teenage offences rooted in deprivation or domestic violence.
A children’s charity warned recently that thousands of young people in care could become the new Windrush generation if they went through their school years without realising they had to acquire settled status.
Bolt said the scheme had to meet “the needs of everyone who is eligible and this includes making ‘reasonable inquiries’ on behalf of those (for example, ‘looked after’ children) who find it difficult to prove their eligibility.” The Home Office said it accepted all seven recommendations and was acting on them.
Bolt found an overall positive approach by the Home Office, noting the scheme “stood out as having been afforded the preparation time, resources and organisational priority to succeed”.