The application process for resident EU citizens and their family members to obtain that status in the UK after we leave the EU will be straightforward, streamlined and user-friendly, and there will be a dedicated customer contact centre to help people through the process. The majority of applicants will need to meet only three criteria: they will have to prove their identity, prove that they are resident in the UK, and prove that they do not pose a serious criminal or security threat.
According to the Migration Observatory, 64,000 non-Irish EU nationals in the UK have never used the internet, and 250,000 have reported language-related difficulties in accessing or keeping work. What capacity will the Home Office have to deal with the many thousands of applicants who will not be able to apply online?
It is crucially important that, in addition to our assisted digital application process, we will have dedicated support—lines to help people through the process. But I am very conscious that there will be people with language difficulties; that has been raised with us by some of the user groups, and we are looking to see how we can assist them as well.
I greatly welcome the Minister’s announcement that the process will be smooth and easy to follow, but agree with Kate Green that a very large number of otherwise extremely sophisticated people in this country do not know that it is going to be as easy as my hon. Friend describes. By what mechanism will she get the message out to all these people that they are welcome here, that the process will be easy, and, crucially, that the cost of applying for residency will be no more than the current cost for a British citizen of applying for a passport?
We have been very clear from the outset that the cost of the scheme will be no more than the cost of applying for a British passport, and indeed for those who already have permanent residency there will be no cost at all. It is crucially important that we continue to work with our user groups, and as we roll the scheme forward we will be providing more information, including through our dedicated email service that we are sending out to people. But we do have an important communication job to make sure people know how to apply and when the scheme opens.
Efforts to involve community groups and public services such as libraries in facilitating settled status applications seem almost non-existent. I learned from Scottish Government colleagues last week that in Scotland the UK Government have made only cursory contact with only two libraries. Can the Minister tell us what further engagement is planned with community groups and public services?
The Home Office continue to engage with people, businesses and organisations across the UK. We are seeking a deal that works for the entire UK and it is very important that we make sure that user groups in Scotland, including organisations such as Citizens Advice, have the necessary resources and understanding of how this system is going to work. We are rolling forward an engagement programme from this point onwards, and I am looking forward to making further announcements in due course.
Does the Minister agree that the fact that 3 or 3.5 million EU citizens wish to remain in the UK after we leave the EU is a huge vote of confidence in a post-Brexit Britain’s future? Does she wish that all colleagues in this House had as much confidence as those EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK after we leave?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are more EU citizens living and working here now than there were at the time of the referendum, and we want to make sure that it is very clear to them that they are welcome. We welcome the contributions they make to both our communities and our economy and we are working to make sure that the streamlined process is as easy as possible.
EU citizens are worried that they might be subjected to the same treatment as the Windrush generation; we have seen similarly cruel treatment of highly skilled migrants deported because of minor tax errors. What system is the Minister putting in place to ensure that, when the settled status system is up and running, issues can be picked up internally without the need for a media storm and extensive pressure from the Opposition?
Of course, it is crucial that the settled status scheme gives people a digital confirmation of their right to live, work and rent property in the UK, and we are absolutely committed to doing that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of people with minor tax discrepancies. It is important to reflect that there have been several instances where those minor discrepancies have run into tens of thousands of pounds, and it is crucial that we pick up any discrepancies between what people are declaring as their income for immigration purposes and their income for tax purposes. We want to make sure that we collect the amount of tax that is owing.