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As of this week, EU citizens currently living in the UK and their families can apply for settled status and must do so by 30 June 2021 to legally remain in the UK. This involves ‘three key steps’ of proving their identity, showing they live in the UK, and declaring they have no serious criminal convictions. The Government will check these details and determine eligibility quickly.

In welcome news, the Prime Minister announced that the proposed £65 (and £32.50 for children) application fee to be paid by applicants will be scrapped when the scheme moves on from its current public test phase, which is meant to test performance of the system, and fully opens on 30 March 2019. From this date, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens will also be able to apply for settled status. While there has been some criticism of the decision to waive the fee, it has on the whole been greeted warmly. But it will be costly to the Home Office, with an estimated £170 million to £190 million in lost revenue.

Nevertheless, this issue cannot simply come down to financial factors. EU citizens came to the UK under the legal right that, provided they did not commit a serious criminal offence, they were free to work and live in Britain. It is the British Government which is moving the goalposts and changing the rules under which EU citizens moved to the UK. It is therefore right that Britain, rather than EU citizens, bear the costs associated with doing so. Previously, the Government was wrongly changing the terms of contract with EU citizens retrospectively.

Most worrying, however, is the fear that certain groups of EU citizens may be unaware they need to apply. This includes children of EU citizens born in the UK but not registered as British citizens (estimated at 323,000) and EU citizens who have already been granted permanent residence in the UK. Considering between 2004 and 2017 at least 146,000 EU citizens were granted permanent residence, but have not yet become British citizens, this is a potentially large group who, quite logically, may think they don’t have to apply to a new system. Additionally, those with limited English may possibly not understand they have to go through this process. These groups represent potentially hundreds of thousands of people who are unaware they need to apply for settled status, causing significant problems for them after 2021.

The Settlement Scheme is one of the largest programmes the Home Office has ever embarked upon on. With millions of EU citizens to register in a relatively short amount of time, it represents an immense administrative challenge. The spectre of the Windrush scandal, which led to unjust detention and deportations, inevitably hangs over the process. Failure will not only let down EU citizens who have decided to make the UK their home, but also undermine the public’s faith in the Government’s ability to handle immigration at a time when Britain will soon move to a wholly reformed immigration system.

Sam Lampier is a Researcher at Bright Blue.