Brandon Lewis has tells MPs each application for settled status after Brexit should take ‘weeks not months’
The immigration minister has promised that the processing of an individual application by an EU national for settled status in Britain “should take no more than a couple of weeks” when registration starts in the second half of next year.
Brandon Lewis told the Commons home affairs select committee that an extra 1,200 UK visas and immigration staff were being recruited to process an expected 3.5m applications from EU nationals over two and a half years.
He also told MPs on Tuesday that he was optimistic an agreement could be struck by Christmas on the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the Brexit negotiations. However, he declined to comment on reports that the Brexit inner cabinet had decided on Monday that the European court of justice could continue to play a role in guaranteeing their rights during a two-year transition period.
The Home Office minister did confirm that those refused “settled status” and deemed to be non-EU nationals in Britain illegally could have their bank accounts frozen and face deportation before any appeal is heard in British courts.
The 3million group, representing EU nationals in Britain, immediately questioned Lewis’s claim that an agreement with the EU on “settled status” was likely before Christmas: “We wonder how. Major stumbling blocks still in place,” they tweeted, noting continued differences over the role of the ECJ, over family reunification rights that could affect thousands, and clarification that they should not face “hostile environment measures”.
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee, voiced scepticism that an extra 1,200 staff – of whom 700 have already been recruited – will be sufficient when the UK Visas and Immigration agency currently uses 6,500 staff to process 3m visa applications a year. There was already a three-month delay in processing EU nationals’ applications for permanent residence documents, she said.
The Home Office minister insisted, however, that the EU applications would be much more straightforward than the bulk of UKVI’s usual cases and would be dealt with by a new “simple and swift” system, with an online user portal similar to that used to renew driving licences.
Lewis said that EU “settled status” applicants, subject to the outcome of the negotiations, would have to verify their identity, pass a criminality check and establish five years’ residence in the UK. The Home Office would use existing HMRC tax/DWP national insurance databases to verify applications. Applicants would not have to submit their passports to prove residence.
The new system, which is being developed with groups of EU nationals, would be tested in the first half of next year and each application should take “a couple of weeks and not months” to process. He said unlike other UKVI casework the system will be based on “a different cultural approach” that the applicant is going to be granted settled status.
He said, however, that non-EU nationals and others who tried to “game the system” could find themselves being rejected and facing deportation before their legal appeals could be heard in the courts.
The immigration minister was challenged by Cooper over the Home Office’s 10% error rate in revoking driving licences or refusing new bank accounts of those wrongly identified as illegally in the country.
He tried to reassure the MPs that when banks are required to carry out immigration checks on millions of existing bank accounts from January, nobody’s account will be frozen until a second check has been made with the Home Office.
The banks will be required to carry out an automated sweep of their accounts against a Home Office database of those in the country illegally. But he confirmed that it was possible that somebody wrongly identified as an illegal immigrant could see their bank account frozen for up to 12 months while they appealed through the courts.
Article from "theguardian"