The Home Office is piloting a one-day only system for immigration applications that could eventually be rolled out for EU citizens living in the UK who could lose their right to residence in the country after Brexit.
It is trialling the scheme with a small number of corporate clients, according to City sources. PwC, which is taking part in the pilot, says it will allow applicants and their dependents to “check in” their passports and have them assessed and returned immediately.
Until recently, applicants had to physically hand over their passports for up to six months, curtailing their ability to travel for work or personal reasons.
During the summer a pilot scheme for an “online check-in” of passports was launched, but this was only for individuals. Monday’s pilot allows an individual to check in passports for their entire family.
EU citizens, has criticised the cumbersome process for permanent residency, which involves an 85-page application form and complicated diary of movements in and out of the country.
It has also pointed out that residency systems in other EU countries are much more user-friendly and less designed to “catch out” illegal immigrants.
The 3 Million has estimated that at the current rate of processing it would take the Home Office 47 years to deal with applications for permanent residency from all EU citizens living in the UK.
Lawyer Julia On slow-Cole, head of global immigration at PwC, confirmed the consultancy had a number of clients taking part in the trial.
She said that although the government had not yet indicated how it would treat the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK before the referendum, clients were getting “very worried” about their staff and future recruitment because of the uncertainty.
“As we are approaching the triggering of article 50, employers are very worried about their EU staff and people are making choices about not going to work in the UK,” said On slow-Cole. She said at a previous Brexit briefing for the media that some senior executives were deciding “not to take that post in London but to take the one in New York” because of the uncertainty.
The Home Office said Monday’s pilot was “a small test” and was part of a modernisation programme launched before the referendum.
The government has been accused of planing to use EU citizens as “bargaining chips” in the Brexit negotiations.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights and a House of Lords select committee has urged Theresa May to secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK at the start of the article 50 negotiations.
On slow-Cole said that although EU citizens did not legally have to make the application for permanent residency, it was “a wise precaution” as acquired rights, including the right to remain in the country, would “be in the ether” after Brexit.