Thousands of EU citizens who have already filled out an 85-page Home Office form and paid a fee to get confirmation of their legal status in the UK will have to re-apply.
Presenting a detailed paper on the government’s plans for EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit, Theresa May told Europeans anxious over their future: “We want you to stay.”
But critics have accused ministers of trying to bring in “ID cards by the back door” after the government said it may collect biometric data from EU citizens and store their details on a Home Office database.
The government paper outlines how EU nationals with five years’ continuous residence in the UK would be able to apply for permanent “settled status”. A two-year “grace period” after Brexit will allow those with less than five years’ residence to secure settled status.
“Under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU,” the Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday. “No families will be split up.”
The government has yet to announce a cut-off date during the two-year negotiation period beyond which new arrivals from the EU will not be guaranteed the right to stay in the UK indefinitely.
EU citizens who secure settled status will have the same access to healthcare and benefits as British citizens, Mrs May confirmed. Pensions entitlements built up by EU citizens will be honoured, and Britons who live in Europe will continue to see their pensions uprated.
However, while EU citizens will continue to be able to bring spouses and family members to the UK without restrictions before Brexit, dependents arriving after the UK leaves the EU will be subject to existing immigration rules.
That means an EU worker in the UK will have to have an income of at least £18,600 in order to bring their spouse to join them, even after five years in the UK. And EU citizens who secure settled status could lose it permanently if they spend more than two years abroad.
Administering the new system presents the Home Office with a huge challenge, as it will have to process 4,100 applications per day in order to deal with the more than three million EU citizens in the UK within the two year grace period.
And while the Home Office has committed to “streamline” its systems, EU citizens will still have to provide years of documentation to prove their right to claim residence in the UK.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn denounced the proposals as “too little, too late”.
“This isn’t a generous offer,” he said. “This is confirmation the government is prepared to use people as bargaining chips.”
And SNP MP Stuart McDonald said the Prime Minister’s plans “marked a clear diminution of EU citizens’ rights”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Ed Davey singled out Brexit secretary David Davis, who has been staunchly opposed to ID cards, over the government’s plans.
“David Davis resigned his seat and caused a by-election because he was disgusted by the assault on civil liberties by the then Labour government. What will he do this time round?” Mr Davey said he had written to the Home Secretary to ask for assurances on the proposal.