The Home Office has rejected a select committee recommendation and reiterated its continued opposition to issuing physical status documents to EU citizens granted settled status in the UK.
In May, the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded its inquiry into the settlement scheme with the publication of a highly critical report. The report warned that, without changes and improvements, the government risked causing repeating harm and hardship on the scale of the Windrush scandal.
This came shortly after a House of Lords committee had also warned that the programme’s eschewal of hard-copy documentation had “clear parallels with Windrush”.
Despite committees from both houses of parliament unequivocally instructing the Home Office to offer some form of physical document, the department has remained firm in its opposition to doing so.
This week, the Home Affairs Committee published the government’s response to its report.
The Home Office has not assented to MPs’ recommendation that, by the end of this year, physical status documentation be “routinely” issued to new applicants, with those that have already applied being retrospectively provided with such documents.
The department reiterated its belief that digital status is more secure for both applicants and authorities.
“Physical documents have evolved over time to address security weaknesses, but the risk of forgery and counterfeiting still exists, and any physical document may be lost or stolen or become out of date very quickly,” it said. “In addition, there are circumstances in which an individual’s status document can be controlled by another person – for example, in cases of domestic violence, modern slavery and human trafficking. Moving to a digital status is a step forward in tackling those who seek to control others. A digital status is also easier to use for visually impaired users, who may have difficulty reading a physical document.”
The Home Office pointed out that “successful applicants will continue to receive written notice of their immigration status, by email or letter, which is an official document intended for individuals to keep".
“However, due to the possibility of fraud and abuse, this document cannot be used to evidence an individual’s immigration status to external organisations,” it added.
The department disputed MPs’ assertion that a digital-only system has been “suddenly imposed… without time to adapt”.
It said that European citizens can continue to use their passport or national identity card “to evidence their status in the UK until the new border and immigration system is introduced in 2021”. They will not need to rely on their digital status until then.
“Since 2018, it has been increasingly possible for individuals to view the digital record of their immigration status held by the Home Office,” the department said. “Non-EEA citizens granted status under other immigration routes can already prove their right to work digitally via the Employee Checking Service, and since this service went live in April 2018 there have been over 40,000 employer profile views. A similar service to enable right to rent checks is in private test phase and will be launched later this year.”
It added: “We are introducing all these services well in advance of moving to a fully digital environment, allowing us to develop and improve the digital status service based on feedback, and to embed the concept of digital status amongst users.”
Android and Apple
Elsewhere in the response, the Home Office claimed that only “a very small minority of applicants have experienced some issues with their application [and] we are satisfied that our processes for managing these issues have operated well”.
Moving to a digital status is a step forward in tackling those who seek to control others. A digital status is also easier to use for visually impaired users, who may have difficulty reading a physical document." Home Office
The department also said that it takes issue with “articles and publications which imply that EEA citizens can only apply for the scheme using an Android device”, stressing that applicants can apply on any internet-enabled device – so long as they post their identity documents to the Home Office or visit one of the 83 document-scanning locations it has set up around the UK.
An Apple version of the app will be ready for use at some point in 2019, the department added.
“The ‘EU Exit: Identity Document Check’ app is an optional aspect of the service which allows applicants to prove their identity remotely,” it said. “The app is currently only available on Android smartphone devices, but as the home secretary confirmed at the start of April 2019, Apple will be making the necessary changes and the app will be working on their devices by the end of the year.”
The Home Office added: “We have worked closely with Apple during this period, but the government was clear that we wanted to make this option to verify your identity remotely available to applicants at the earliest opportunity, which is why we released the app for Android in time for the second private beta test phase and well in advance of the full launch of the scheme.”