Leaked Brexit document outlines plans for “frictionless” digital immigration system


A leaked document suggests that EU-nationals that are living and working in the UK could have their status checked via a new online portal after Brexit.

The British government has been laying out its plans for how it plans to manage its transition away from the European Union in a series of Brexit related papers, which thus far have focused on topics such as data protection and a new customs system.

However, this week a leaked document to the Guardian – marked as “sensitive” – provides some insights into how the government and employers may use a new digital portal to check the status of EU nationals wanting to live and work in the UK.

Whilst the document is thought not yet to have been signed off by ministers, the headlines in the mainstream press focus on the fact that the once having left the EU, the UK will be cutting the number of low-skilled migrants from Europe.

After March 2019, free movement of people will end and the UK will adopt a “more selective approach” based on the UK’s economic and social needs.

This, in turn, will require new systems to be put in place to check the status of EU-nationals that want to stay for extended periods of time to work or study. The document suggests that EU nationals coming for shorter periods of time will have to travel on passports (national identity cards will not be allowed) and the government hopes to put in place “electronic pre-clearance processes which, longer-term, may minimise the need for additional checks at the border”.

A new system

After March 2019, the UK hopes to enter a transition period to ease any pain from the changes that business and citizens may experience. However, the document outlines plans for a future immigration system, that it hopes will be “digital, flexible and frictionless” for individuals and employers.

The document states:

A secure digital portal will enable employers and public service providers quickly to check the immigration status of an individual and take action if necessary.”

We will be seeking the views of employers and other stakeholders on the details of these arrangements, with the aim of making them as straightforward to use as possible, but effective in identifying the immigration status of individuals.

However, the document adds that in the meantime a physical document is likely going to have to be issued to EU citizens evidencing their right to stay doing the temporary implementation period, whilst the digital system is built. It hopes to replace the paper process with the digital system “as soon as operationally feasible”.

The document states that current employers will not have to re-check the right to work status of existing employees.

The new digital system will be supported by “improved data sharing capabilities between government departments, notably between the Home Office, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, to link together tax, benefit and immigration records in a fully automated and digital way”.

The government has previously outlined its intention to sort out its data – in order to make it authoritative, shareable and useable. At present, much department data is disorganised, siloed and there aren’t clear rules about how it can be used.

However, new legislation has been introduced to encourage data sharing and departments are taking on projects to create data registers, which are canonical lists of data that are meant to serve as definitive sources of truth for whatever they describe.

One would assume that this data work and a future digital immigration system would be closely linked.

My take

This is a leaked document, so we cannot yet assume that these are the government’s final plans. It’s good, I guess, that the government is thinking about the digital options for how future residents could apply for and check their status. Employers sitting at their desks and telling applicants after a quick check on their computer that they don’t have the right immigrant status sounds a bit 1984 to me, however. That being said, if the government is talking about data sharing across multiple departments to create a single view of registered workers – that’s a government system that’s more advanced than any of the government services I currently use, so who knows if it will actually come to anything.

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