A “breakdown of the electronic system” would leave EU citizens in peril after Brexit because they will have no documents, a House of Lords committee has warned.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has been told he is risking another Windrush style immigration scandal by not providing more than 3 million people with any physical proof of their right to remain and work.
Instead, the EU citizens granted ‘settled status’ will receive only an electronic code, plus an email or letter informing them of the decision, which does not amount to legal proof.
Now the House of Lords EU justice sub-committee has written to the home secretary warning that people would be left in limbo if the electronic system ever breaks down, a failure which could be “accidental or due to a cyber attack”.
“We believe that it essential that individuals who are granted pre-settled or settled status have the opportunity to acquire a document or other hard copy form of evidence of their right to be in the United Kingdom,” says the letter to Javid.
The peers raise further concerns, pointing out the danger of “discrimination when employers or service providers find it too complicated or troublesome to engage with electronic systems”.
The letter adds: “We have also heard concerns about how EU nationals would provide evidence in unplanned interactions such as contact with the police or immigration authorities, or emergency admissions to hospital.
“Furthermore, we have heard concerns that a digital-only proof could still be used by people traffickers and illegal gangmasters to exert control over their victims.”
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, the committee’s chairwoman added: “If I was in this situation, I would want to have physical proof – just like for a driving licence – for a sense of personal security in case of events such as computer failure.”
The Lords committee has also criticised:
the emphasis on online applications, which it says makes the process “daunting” for people who lack confidence with IT systems;
inadequate publicity for the scheme, leaving vulnerable and harder-to-reach people at risk of not knowing that they need to apply for settled status;
the absence of a systematic scheme to move people from pre-settled status – for those not yet resident in the UK for five years – to full settled status.
The criticism opens up a new front in fears about the scheme, which must register up to 3.8 million people by June 2010, or six months earlier if there is a no-deal Brexit.
In December, UKAuthority reported how users had reported that the phone app for registering was riddled with problems in trials.
That controversy came on top of a previous row over the app not working at all on iPhones, but only on Android devices.
There are also concerns that the Home Office requires the EU citizens to allow their data, including photos, to be shared with other public and private organisations at home and overseas.
Image by Swissbert, public domain through flickr