After 30 June 2021, EU citizens granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme will have to go through a complex checking process via the Home Office website to prove their immigration status to employers, banks or landlords.
EU citizens in the UK will depend on the digital-only system working 24 hours a day, every day, to prove their immigration status when seeking a new job opportunity, opening a bank account, getting treatment at a hospital, or returning home after a holiday abroad. They will depend on access to the email account or telephone number registered against the status. They will also need reliable broadband with no system outages. Finally, they will require both digital literacy and others’ willingness to engage with this system.
If just one part of this process fails, it all fails.
The UK government’s own assessment concluded that digital-only right to work checks would cause serious issues for many and that a physical backup should be retained for now. The only other country in the world to have a fully digital visa system is Australia. That system was based on lengthy trials and pilots and with the option of a physical backup for over a decade after it was rolled out. New Zealand is also moving to a digital visa system, but citizens are still able to request a physical document as backup.
Digital-only schemes should only be introduced with extreme caution, after research, trials and rigorous evaluation. Too many businesses currently lack an understanding of the new immigration rules for EU citizens. the3million recently commissioned a poll of UK professionals with authority over hiring decisions, which makes for alarming reading. Only 14% of companies said they were clear on the new rules for employing EU citizens after free movement ends in December and only 10% of companies with a turnover of less than £500k had used a digital check before.
The poll confirms the very real risk that EU citizens may be discriminated against when seeking work. Widespread confusion and the speed with which the digital-only system is being introduced will lead to discrimination. To avoid making mistakes many employers will prefer UK candidates. EU citizens are likely to be overlooked in favour of other groups who can easily demonstrate their right to work in the UK.
Businesses, landlords, the DVLA, police, banks and every service provider need to be clear on the new system and this cannot be done by 2021. Many smaller businesses will be faced with the impossible choice between the risk of hefty fines or discriminatory practices.
We need better information, a longer implementation period and the option of a physical document for those who need it. Australia had 11 years where people could request a physical backup – the3million are clear we owe London’s talented and skilled EU workforce a similar length of transition rather than the seismic shock they are currently on course to experience.
The call to give EU citizens the option of providing physical proof of their immigration status is backed by London First, Equity and a growing number of organisations.