The Home Office and the Government Digital Service (GDS) are to deliver a streamlined online process for EU nationals wishing to regularise their residency status in the UK, the prime minister has announced.
The new procedure is to replace the unwieldy 85-page paper form currently in use, Prime Minister Theresa May said during a two-day summit in Brussels.
It would be aimed at the estimated three million EU nationals currently residing in the UK.
The measure was announced as part of an offer by May to give EU nationals similar rights to those of British citizens following the UK’s planned exit from the bloc.
The document marks the first time the government will have disclosed any concrete information on its intentions for EU citizens amidst the ongoing EU exit process.
It follows the Conservative party’s loss of its majority in the snap general election, putting pressure on the government to make concessions for European citizens. The opposition Labour party has urged the government to guarantee EU citizens’ rights.
Under May’s proposal, European citizens arriving in the UK before a cut-off date would be able to achieve “settled status” after five years in the country, giving them the same residency, employment, health, welfare and pension rights as British citizens.
European nationals would not have the right to vote, but could obtain it by becoming citizens.
The cut-off date, which hasn’t yet been determined, would be no earlier than 29 March, 2017, when article 50 triggering the EU exit process was triggered, but could be as late as the end of the exit process.
The online procedure is the government’s latest piece of work related to EU exit, which the cabinet secretary has called “the biggest, most complex challenge facing the civil service in our peacetime history”.
The National Audit Office (NAO) in March found the government faced an “urgent” digital skills shortage, in part due to the decision to leave the EU.
As of February this year the civil service had created more than one thousand new roles in two new deparments to prepare for exiting the EU and negotiating new trade agreements, with two-thirds of the roles currently having been filled.
The diversion of resources to the EU exit process also contributed to government plans to automatically renew a number of large IT contracts, according to comments by a government procurement adviser reported in April.
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