The government published a new document on 7 November 2017 setting out how EEA nationals will be supported through an application process to remain in the UK after Brexit. This document is meant to reassure EU nationals and their family members about how the process will operate for the new 'settled status scheme'. The final provisions will be set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The technical document confirms that a voluntary scheme will be set up before the exit date in March 2019 for EEA nationals to apply under the new system. We do not yet know from when the scheme will be available. After Brexit, there is likely to be a period of two years for EEA nationals to apply although we do not yet know the exact dates. The proposal states that the application process for settled status will be streamlined, user-friendly and digital and helpfully they wish to draw information from existing government data (such as HMRC records to verify residence as a worker). The fee will remain low and not more than a British passport application (currently £72.50).
Although those who have already acquired Permanent Residence in the UK will still have to apply for settled status, the note states that there will be a simple process to exchange this status for settled status subject to ID verification, confirmation of ongoing residence and a security check, meaning they will not have to prove again their claim to permanent residence. Those individuals will pay a reduced fee.
There will be less documentary evidence required from EEA nationals and in particular comprehensive sickness insurance will no longer be required and there will be less or no scrutiny for undocumented periods where the Home Office is satisfied that overall the residence requirements have been met.
For those who have not yet been resident for the required five years for permanent residency, EEA nationals will be able to apply for a temporary 'status document' and after five years in the UK apply for the 'settled status document'.
The document indicates that the Home Office will take a far more flexible and simplified approach than they do currently in processing these applications, however there are still concerns with regard to whether the Home Office will be able to cope with the volume of applications without compromising on citizen's rights.
It will be for each individual to decide whether to apply for a residence document now or wait until the new 'streamlined' process comes in. Depending on the person's circumstances, applying now for a residence document will often provide clarity and reassurance. It is currently mandatory to provide a permanent residence document with a citizenship application and those aiming for British citizenship in the next couple of years should therefore apply first for permanent residence.