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MPs sound warning over digital codes for EU nationals


Forcing EU citizens to use online checks to prove their status after Brexit puts them in danger of losing out on housing and jobs, MPs have warned.

Parliament’s Exiting the European Union Committee has criticised the Government’s plans for a digital application process for ‘settled status’. It would require EU nationals to provide a digital code to a potential employer or landlord, who would input it into a Home Office website to check their immigration status.

In a report on citizens’ rights, it has branded the idea confusing and worryingly dependent on the goodwill of employers and landlords. 

It points out that the scheme would require them to use electronic devices, such as smartphones or tablet computers, and be willing to go through the process.

Instead, it urges ministers to distribute easy-to-use physical documents, warning people will otherwise be shunned by bosses and landlords fearful of fines if they employ or rent to an illegal immigrant.

“The experience of the Windrush generation shows that, where errors occur, it can lead to devastating consequences for individuals and their families,” the committee says.

“We are also concerned about the potential for fraud and the incentive for individuals to be exploited if they cannot persuade an employer or landlord of their status.”

Issues unresolved

Ministers have hailed the progress made on citizens’ rights as one of the big wins from the Brussels talks, but the committee warns that “substantial issues remain unresolved”.

Its report also calls on 27 remaining EU states to finally set out how 1 million British expats in their country can guarantee their status, warning they had been “left in the dark”. The UK Government must redouble its efforts to protect their ongoing free movement between the 27 countries, which is under threat, it says.

It also backs the European Parliament by calling for fees to be waived to register for settled status – provided UK citizens in the EU are offered the same.

The Home Office has set the cost at £65 for adults and £32.50 for a child under 16, arguing that is “less than the price of a passport”. 

Ministers must also clear up what will happen to EU citizens who fail to apply for settled status by a deadline of June 2021 – six months after the end of the planned post-Brexit transition period.

Hilary Benn, the committee’s chair, said the Government had implied that citizens' rights were “all sorted”, but warned: “The evidence we have heard suggests it is far from being finalised.”

Image by Swissbert, public domain through flickr

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