EU national civil servants in England and Wales will have to pay the £65 fee to apply for settled status after Brexit, after the government confirmed it will not pay its employees’ application costs.
“The UK government currently does not plan to pay the settled status fee for its non-UK EU citizen employees. The fee is set at an affordable rate (£65), less than the cost of a UK passport,” Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in a statement this week.
To continue living and working in the UK after Brexit, EU nationals must apply for settled status through a scheme being run by the Home Office.
Only civil servants working north of the border will be exempt from the fee, after the Scottish Government confirmed it would cover settled status application costs for devolved public sector workers.
Holyrood said it would ask public-sector employees to pay up front and then reimburse their costs after the Home Office confirmed it would not allow third-party payments for applications.
A number of private-sector employers have also said they will pay the application fee for those working for them.
Dowden was responding to a parliamentary written question asked by Labour MP Alison McGovern about the potential cost to the public purse if the government decided not to charge its EU national employees to apply for settled status.
He said it would be impossible to estimate this cost because the number of non-UK EU citizens in the civil service is “not consistently collected across government”.
“We are committed to supporting our EU citizen employees across the civil service, the important engagement with EU national networks across government will continue over the coming months,” he added.
Several departments have also issued similar statements, in some cases repeating word for word parts of the same response given by Dowden.
Responding to a question asked by Labour MP Catherine West, business minister Richard Harrington this week reiterated that civil servants would have to pay the fee.
“We value the significant contribution made by EU citizens working in the civil service and we want these colleagues to continue to play a full role in the work of the civil service. We are committed to supporting our EU citizen employees across the civil service, the important engagement with EU national networks across government will continue over the coming months,” he added.
Harrington did not respond directly to a second question from West as to what assessment BEIS had made of the risk the fee posed to the retention of non-UK EU nationals in the department.
The trade union Prospect has been calling on the government to pay EU national civil servants' application costs, and wrote to cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill before Christmas to raise their concerns.
“Good employers around the country recognise that offering to pay the charge for their employees to stay in the UK is both value for money and an important signal that they value the contribution of their European staff," deputy general secretary Garry Graham said.
North of the border
The move puts Whitehall out of step with the Scottish Government, which confirmed in September that it would cover settled status application costs for public-sector workers including civil servants and NHS staff.
“It is simply wrong that people already making a contribution to our country should have to pay to retain rights they currently have to live and work here,” first minister Nicola Sturgeon said at the time.
“However, if the UK government persists, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will meet the settled status fees for EU citizens who work in our devolved public services.”
Holyrood had been intending to pay its employees’ application fee directly, but will now instead ask them to pay up front and reimburse their costs after the Home Office confirmed it would not allow third-party payments for applications.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said in December that it was up to employers to decide whether to pay for settled status applications for their staff.
“However, HMRC has advised that in situations like these, where an employer pays or reimburses their employees’ application costs, such a payment would be taxable as earnings from their employment and may also attract a National Insurance contributions charge,” she said.