Settled Status

This analysis of the Home Office Settled Status programme – based on published materials, official statements, and conversations with those assisting or affected by the scheme – suggests many significant questions remain to be answered if the scheme is to be fair, impartial and supportive of vulnerable people.

Author’s postscript

The Withdrawal Agreement for Brexit requires most EU citizens resident in the UK to register with the Home Office. They will then be required to show proof of such registration on request, and British citizens can be fined or jailed should they not check such proof at certain times.

It was possible to have designed a Settled Status programme that does not have the flaws we highlight. The Home Office has not designed such a programme. In practice, the mass registration of over 3 million EU citizens is unlikely to go well, and our report highlights a significant number of outstanding questions.

To take just one group as an example: EU citizens who have previously been granted Permanent Residence may quite reasonably assume they have no need to register. They could be forgiven for thinking that the word “permanent” in their immigration status meant that their status was “permanent”. The Home Office, however, will not forgive anyone for thinking that.

Citizens of the British Isles

Given statements from the EU about reciprocity, British citizens living in EU countries may have to follow a process similar to Settled Status in the UK. Has the Government made any contingency plans for meeting its obligations in that case?

Will the Home Office and the Foreign Office have the ability to meet the requirements for UK citizens living in the EU that are reciprocal to those we are demanding from EU citizens living here? Will elderly Britons living abroad be required to satisfy the obligations of the Home Office’s hostile environment in order to receive current papers? What about those for whom their age or mental state prevents them from doing so?

The Settled Status process requires that citizens of other countries must have a current passport or equivalent, even where age prevents them from any form of travel. While such questions were out of scope for the report, they will directly affect every British citizen living elsewhere in Europe, and have barely been considered.

And it doesn’t end there. Every Irish citizen’s passport has “European Union” stamped on the cover. Given current Home Office and public debate around the Settled Status programme, any non-Irish person seeing such a passport might assume its holder was required to obtain Settled Status – an assumption that, while quite reasonable, is entirely wrong. Even were the Home Office to be entirely clear on the rights of residents (arguably an unprecedented step), will every landlord understand or make those distinctions, especially given the harsh penalties imposed if they get it wrong?

Will these issues be made clear in all Home Office messaging? How many similar issues will there be that are not yet on the political radar?

Technology is a hostile environment

Criticism of the Settled Status system on Twitter and elsewhere is not misplaced. The arbitrariness and institutional brutality of this system is harsh enough already for people who have no choice but to go through it; no action taken by British citizens seeking to support them should cause any unnecessary burden upon public bodies beyond the Home Office, nor cause any legitimate applicant undue additional distress.

For every Government data error that forces Home Office officials to ‘pause’ a decision and go back to a lawful resident, requiring them to provide additional evidence for manual checking, the Settled Status scheme will go incrementally over budget. The evidence of the pilots thus far suggests there will be many, many such errors.

Going Forward?

In 2006, then Home Secretary John Reid admitted the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”. Then in 2007, the balance of justice was shorn off as the Ministry of Justice was formed. In the subsequent decade, the Home Office has become increasingly detached from any sense of humanity or justice, with terrible human consequences that must be dealt with. Some of those can be dealt with in legislation imminently before Parliament – such as the EU Withdrawal (Implementation) Bill – some in the longer term, in the future Immigration Bill. But these will only be short term fixes, to some current problems.

Following the resignation of his predecessor, the current Home Secretary has begun a review of the Home Office – a necessary first step, in the same way the Butler Review was a prerequisite for the Chilcot Inquiry.

Given recent high profile embarrassments – the Windrush scandal, backtracking on plans to scrap ‘golden visas’ for rich investors, and a new visa outsourcing service that puts applicants at risk of deportation – and the ever-widening consequences of the hostile environment, whatever follows Sajid Javid’s review of Home Office structures and processes will be required to include the Settled Status scheme.

Will we let the institutional failures of the Home Office repeat themselves yet again, affecting yet another group of our friends, our neighbours, and our relatives?

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