The EU Settlement Scheme, which processes applications of EU citizens living in the UK to allow them to remain in the UK after Brexit, has gone live.

From 21 January 2019 a public test phase will run for individuals who are resident EU citizens (with a valid EU passport) or non-EU citizen family members of EU citizens (with a biometric residence card) . The Scheme will open fully on 30 March 2019.

The EU Settlement Scheme applies to EU citizens already in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, or those who enter before the end of the transition period (assuming there is one).  It allows them to apply for settled status or pre-settled status.  An individual can apply for settled status where they have lived in the UK for a continuous 5 year period  (although they can have a period of 12 months abroad for childbirth, a serious illness, study or an overseas work posting).  For those with less than 5 years continuous residence, an application can be made for pre-settled status.  If the individual stays in the UK for a further 5 years then they can make an application for settled status from that date.  Settled Status will mean the individual can continue living and working in the UK after December 2020.

The Scheme has already been rolled out on a trial basis from 28 August 2018. This involved a private phase of testing for health service trusts and universities in North West England. During that period the Home Office received 29,987 applications and 27,211 decisions were made.

The application is made by way of a smartphone app on an Android phone and initially cost £65 for those over 16 and £32.50 for children. However, the Government subsequently stated that it will be abolishing the fee for the Settlement Scheme when it is generally opened on 30 March 2019. Those who have already made their applications and paid the fee will be eligible for a refund and further details on this will follow. The process was free in any event if the citizen already has indefinite leave to remain the UK or has a valid UK permanent residence document, or for those after April 2019 who are applying to move from pre-settled status to settled status.  Whilst the app is intended to be simple to use and to include harmonising information from different government departments, such as HMRC, there is concern that vulnerable groups with limited IT skills or language skills may have difficulty applying.

Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland are not eligible to apply during this public test phase. They will be able to apply when the scheme is fully open by 30 March 2019.

Currently the Scheme is due to operate until June 2021 from which point any such citizens will be subject to new Immigration Rules. However, definite timings may depend on whether the UK leaves the EU on a “no deal”.