Is The Home Office Ready For Brexit?
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The Home Office has a task of unprecedented scale over the next 18 months. With the deadline for Brexit fast approaching, the Home Office will be responsible for administering the Immigration status of approximately three million EU nationals currently living in the UK.
In a recent article, The Economist quoted David Wood, former head of Immigration enforcement at the Home Office. He told a parliamentary committee of his “grave doubts about his old employer’s ability to deal with Britain’s exit from the European Union”.
- 43% of the Immigration decisions that were appealed in 2016 were overturned, highlighting a decline in quality as only 34% was rejected ten years ago
- appellants are forced to wait almost a year for the Immigration Tribunal to hear their appeal
- in 2015/16, the Ombudsman upheld three-quarters of complaints concerning the Home Office
- there are serious concerns from top Immigration lawyers and Immigration advocacy groups about the handling of freedom of information requests
Austerity not to blame
Although there has been a significant increase in EU nationals applying for EU permanent residence Cards and British Citizenship, the Home Office cannot blame this or austerity for its poor performance over recent years. Any cuts to its budget have been made up by sharp increases in fees; for example, the cost of obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain has more than doubled since 2014, from £1,093 to £2,297.
Problems already becoming known
The Home Office has previously shown signs that it is struggling with the growing workload. In summer, around 100 EU citizens settled in the UK were sent letters by the Home Office telling them to leave the UK or be deported. And in December 2016, a Dutch woman, Monique Hawkins, who had lived in the UK for 24 years, was sent a letter by the Home Office telling her to prepare to leave the country. The correspondence was sent after Ms Hawkins had applied for an EU permanent residence Card.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Theresa May announced EU nationals and their families who have resided in the UK for five years to more can apply for ‘settled status’. If settled status is granted, they will have the same rights as British Citizens in terms of healthcare, education, benefits and pensions.
It will cost around £65 to apply for settled status, generating revenue of £195 million for the Treasury. EU nationals who have been granted an EU permanent residence Card will still have to apply for settled status.
There is likely to be a cut-off point by which EU nationals arriving in the UK will be unable to apply for settled status after five years automatically and will instead be given "blanket permission" to stay for a period - expected to be up to two years. Highly-skilled EU nationals may be granted the right to stay for a period of three to five years.
Home Secretary, Amber Rudd told Parliament earlier this week the registration of EU nationals living in the UK will begin at the end of this year.
The department will recruit over 1,200 staff between now and April to assist with the process. To reassure MPs about the Home Office’s capacity to handle the high levels of administration required to process the millions of EU citizens, Ms Rudd stated that the process would be quick and done online. Currently, the application for EU permanent residency is 85-pages. Also, HM Revenue and Customs/Department of Works and Pensions records would be checked online, (providing the applicant consents). Identity and criminal background inquiries will also be checked via the internet.
“We are going to be testing [the new process] and rolling it out in stages to make sure we get it right. We will be nimble on our toes … to make sure we recruit where necessary to keep it up,” Ms Rudd told MPs. She also denied the Home Office had a high rate of errors, but acknowledged that individual mistakes regarding EU residency rights had been made.
The Guardian reported that The3million, a group focused on campaigning for the rights of EU nationals had reiterated its position from August, “the rights of EU citizens was not an Immigration matter and should not be supervised by a government department that erroneously sent about 100 deportation letters to EU nationals this summer”.
“It’s very worrying that the home secretary is denying that the Home Office had a high error rate when processing EU citizens’ application for permanent residence because lessons must be learned and apologies must be made to start rebuilding trust,” said Nicolas Hatton, the campaign’s co-founder.
“At the moment, The3million has no confidence in the Home Office registering three million people, and this is one of the key issues with the proposed settled status the British government is trying to agree in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.”
As reported in The Economist, ending freedom of movement will require the Home Office to make a raft of Immigration decisions it has not had to face before. Regardless of political opinion and the Brexit vote, many sectors of the UK economy rely heavily on low and medium-skilled EU nationals to grow their business. The government must ensure it provides British business access to EU talent, or face seeing the economy shrink. Unfortunately, no information as to how such a goal will be achieved has been forthcoming. It may be prudent for employers and HR directors to look into obtaining a UK Sponsor Licence, so they are in a position to recruit talent from inside and outside the EU through the Points-Based Visa system.
OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected business immigration law firms in London and are highly rated in the Legal 500. By making an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today.
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please phone our London office on 0203 959 9123.