During a visit on 18 August to the Latin American Project for People with Disabilities (LADPP), which offers support to Portuguese and Spanish speakers, the Secretary of State for Immigration and Future Borders, Kevin Foster, defended the digital certificate that proves the Europeans’ residence status in the United Kingdom.
“The advantage of digital status is that it is safe, it is maintained by the Ministry of the Interior on a permanent basis, it cannot be lost, falsified or stolen, and it gives people guarantees in the future that the status is there. Yes, [people] have to update it when they renew passports, but it is maintained by the Ministry of the Interior forever, and they can have access when they need it and it can be shared with people who need it when they need it. It is a simple process,” he told Lusa news agency.
The British Government created the European Union Citizen Registration System (‘EU Settlement Scheme’) following the departure of the country from the European Union (EU) and the process is entirely digital, including the use of mobile phone applications to verify data passport biometrics and articulation with the British tax database to confirm the right of residence.
Foster argues that people are increasingly used to consulting and using services on the Internet, such as banking applications on their mobile phones, and that a digital certificate is more secure than a physical document because it can be accessed from anywhere.
But Rachel Hobbs, who provides support in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) to Europeans who want to obtain permanent residence status in the UK, told Lusa that the lack of physical evidence worries people.
“It is very simple to apply and most are processed quickly. The most problematic issue is what comes next. Many people are used to having a stamp in their passport, or a card, and saying that there is no card or physical evidence it is quite worrying for many people,” she said.
In her opinion, even after obtaining the residence status, many people will continue to depend on the help of third parties, including community organisations, because the certificate will be necessary to gain access to the labour market, public services or social supports and obtain contracts, as well as accommodation.
“There are a large proportion of people who do not have digital knowledge to go to the Internet and see the status,” guarantees Hobbs, who estimated that LADPP has already served around 300 Portuguese citizens with this.
European citizens, including Portuguese, have until 30 June, 2021 to apply for mandatory post-Brexit UK resident status, which has already been awarded to some 3.6 million people.
By the end of July, the British Interior Ministry had received 3.81 million applications, of which 3.6 million had been processed, but close to 76,000 were refused or invalidated.
Portugal, with 280,800 applications made until the end of May, is the country with the fourth largest number, behind Poland, Romania and Italy.
In addition to the LADPP, the British Government financed 56 more community NGOs that support people who may have difficulties with the English language and published information in 26 different languages.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU implies an end to freedom of movement for Europeans in the country, and British citizens in the EU’s 27 member states, at the end of 2020, when the transition period ends later this year.
On 1 January, a new immigration system in the UK is scheduled to come into force, which will impose criteria such as professional or academic qualifications and a minimum wage of £25,600 (€30,800).