The Home Office has unveiled its plans for EU citizens living in the UK post-Brexit, announcing that they will "work with applicants" to ensure that they can "stay and continue their lives here, with the same access to work, study, benefits and public services that they enjoy now".
Speaking in the House of Commons, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes delivered a statement of intent for the Government's Settlement Scheme which will provide EU nationals with indefinite leave to live and work in the UK.
Currently 3.8 million EU nationals live in the UK.
ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand wrote that the plans appear to have been designed to move away from the "hostile environment" policy over immigration which gained much criticism over the Windrush scandal.
The MP for Romsey and Southampton North continued that "securing the rights" of EU citizens had been the Government's "priority" following negotiations with the European Union on the matter which concluded in March.
"EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and our way of life, they are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay," Ms Nokes told the Commons.
She added that it would be a "straightforward" process for EU citizens currently living in the UK, and that close family members would be able to join them in the future.
- Who will be eligible?
EU citizens who have lived in the UK continuously for the last five years will be "eligible for settled status", Ms Nokes revealed.
So long as EU residents in the UK can prove their ID and nationality, that they have been resident in the country for the past five years through either employment or benefits records, show that they have no criminal convictions (minor offences will be tolerated), and where relevant their family relationship to an EU citizen, they will be eligible to apply.
The same test will be applied as is currently used to determine whether an individual can be deported because of criminal conduct - whether they present a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the fundamental interests of UK society.
Those who have lived in the UK for less than this time, but who arrived before December 31, 2020, will "be granted pre-settled status" and can then apply for settled status once they have lived in the UK for five years.
UK residents from non-EU economic area countries and Switzerland will have a similar settlement scheme, the Tory MP said, but added that negotiations on this were still ongoing.
Paul Brand noted that the new system is "far more generous" for EU nationals wanting to bring a spouse to the country, and that they will have "more rights than British nationals in that regard".
- How will the process work?
Applications will be able to be submitted online so that the entire process "is short, simple and user-friendly", Ms Nokes said, adding that assistance will be provided if required.
Paul Brand revealed that applicants can input their national insurance number to sync with employment records or benefits, and will also be able to take selfies, to prove their identities.
Should applicants not wish to make an online application they can send their documentation by post, and contact centres will be available to offer support and "user-friendly guidance".
It is hoped that applications will be processed in a fortnight.
- How much will it cost?
Applications will cost £65 for addults, or £32.50 for children under-16.
There will be no fee for children in care.
The fee is the same as the current fee for a permanent residence document and £10.50 cheaper than the minimum for a standard British passport.
If EU residents in the UK already hold a valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain document, they can swap them for the new settled status document free of charge.
Separately, the Home Office said it cannot put a specific number on how much the process will cost, but Ms Nokes said £300 million had been set aside to deal with the applications.
- When do applications need to be made?
Ms Nokes stressed there is "no rush" for migrants to apply for settled status, and there will be no change to their current rights before the end of the Brexit implementation period on December 31, 2020.
The deadline for applications under the scheme is June 30, 2021, but a phased roll-out will see the first applications be able to be submitted later this year, with the process open fully by the end of March 2019.
- What about family members?
The close family members of EU residents living in the UK will be able to join their relatives once they have been granted settled status.
Non-EU nationals who meet certain criteria will be able to apply for settled status as a family member after the relationship has ended, such as because of death or divorce.
- What else did Ms Nokes reveal in the Commons?
The Immigration Minister said applications will be favourable to applicants and that "throughout the process we will be looking to grant, not for reasons to refuse", and doing so would "reduce administrative burdens".
She added that settled status would "enable those who have made their lives in the UK to stay here. We want them to do so".
- What has the opposition been?
Concerns have been raised that potentially hundreds of thousands of EU citizens could "fall through the cracks" of the new scheme.
Home Office ministers were warned that up to 200,000 EU nationals could be "left without status" if just 5% failed to register before the June 2021 cut-off.
Ms Nokes replied there would be a "proportionate response" to people who did not register in time.
She would also not be drawn on whether or not the proposed system would still stand if the UK left the EU in a "no deal" situation.
- Have any glitches been identified?
IPhone users will not be able to fully use the application app as the technology required to read passport chips and submit selfies does not work on Apple devices.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said talks were taking place with the technology giant to try and rectify the issue.