Brexit - Government’s digital approach to checking EU citizens’ status already running into problems
- The government’s app for EU citizens applying to stay in the UK isn’t currently compatible with Apple smartphones. And the Minister of State for Immigration has caused confusion about the future system after giving evidence to a Select Committee.
The UK is set to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019, with or without a deal. In order to understand which EU citizens are living in the UK already and have the right to stay and work, and those that are visiting after Brexit, the Home Office is planning to introduce a “digital, flexible and frictionless” system for individuals and employers.
MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee have already warned that the Home Office’s new IT systems to support immigration plans post-Brexit face high risks, particularly in light of the time constraints facing the departments and its poor track record on developing systems.
And according to a BBC report out today, whilst the UK government is preparing to launch a smartphone app to make easy for EU citizens to apply to remain in the UK after Brexit - as of yet, it does not work fully on Apple devices.
The app is central to the government’s plan to ensure the 3.4 million EU citizens in the UK apply for settled status.
The app will ask users questions, will ask them to take a photo of themselves to be checked against Home Office records, and then to scan the chip on their passport to verify their identity. However, the only problem is, Apple has thus far mostly limited the use of its Near Field Communication chips - the technology used to scan the passport chip - for its Apple Pay transactions. It is not open to third party use.
Android users will be able to scan their passports, but Apple users won’t (unless they borrow an Android smartphone). Alternatively, they will have to post their passport to the UK Visa and Immigration Service, resulting in unwanted delays and admin.
The Home Office told the BBC that it is “continuing to engage with Apple at the highest level”, but sources working at the firm would not be drawn on whether a solution could be found before the UK leaves the EU in March.
A shambolic performance
Caroline Nokes, now Minister of State for Immigration, and once previously (albeit very briefly) responsible for the digital government brief at the Cabinet Office, gave a rather unsatisfying performance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Committee, was left exasperated by Nokes when quizzing her on how the system will work for employers and EU citizens.
Whilst Nokes said that once Brexit takes place EU citizens will not have a right to come and work in the UK, and that a new immigration system will have been brought forward, she also said that employers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between people who had settled in the UK and those who had just arrived.
Nokes added that firms may have to do “rigorous” checks on EU staff if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The government has said that EU free movement will end in March, but the reality is that EU nationals will still be able to come and work in the UK until the end of the 21 month transition period.
"If somebody has been through the settled status scheme they would be able to evidence that.
"If somebody hasn't been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody's right to work."
However, as the recent and ongoing Windrush Generation scandal has shown, the government doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to fulfilling its promise to migrants that are meant to have the same rights as British Citizens. With time running out between now and March next year, and the prospect of a deal diminishing, the Home Office is running out of time to establish a system that will operate smoothly and protect the rights of citizens.