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Immigration/Emmigration

Boom in UK residency requests spurs secret online registration

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Border Force check the passports of passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport on May 28, 2014 in London, England. Border Force is the law enforcement command within the Home Office responsible for the security of the UK border by enforcing immigration and customs controls on people and goods entering the UK. Border Force officers work at 140 sea and airports across the UK and overseas. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)The Home Office is trialling a new online application system to speed permanent residence applications from thousands of EU citizens seeking to secure their UK immigration status in the run-up to Brexit.

The pilot programme, which will run for the next two weeks, is being tested secretly by a group of about 20 corporate clients ahead of a public launch expected later this year, according to people involved in the trial.

 It will serve as both a quicker service for the estimated 3.5m European nationals who now face uncertainty over their future in Britain, as well as a useful audit of the true number of Europeans resident in the UK as ministers embark on exit negotiations with Brussels following June’s vote to leave the EU.

While countries such as Germany have always required EU nationals to document their arrival, the UK does not. But there is now likely to be a huge increase in demand for residence applications from Europeans who are already in Britain and anticipate restrictions being placed on freedom of movement within the bloc.

A special cabinet meeting on Brexit convened on Wednesday by Theresa May agreed to seek a “unique” model for the UK in negotiations on a new relationship with the EU, with “controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe”, the prime minister’s spokeswoman said. Ministers also sought “a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services”.

Stemming heavy immigration flows from Europe was a key demand of Brexit campaigners

The Home Office currently processes just over 25,000 permanent residence applications each year from European citizens and their family members, most commonly from those seeking residence rights for a non-EU spouse or child.

With demand set to soar, the service will have to rapidly increase its capacity. Migration experts have predicted that the Home Office could receive 140 years’ worth of requests in as little as 12 months.

The online application will replace a more cumbersome paper-based system which involves printing out an 85-page form and sending it to the Home Office by special delivery. Officials have told the companies involved in the trial that internet clients can expect a system which is “faster, easier and more intuitive” than the current service.

One person who was helping to operate the new system admitted that it was “definitely part of a stocktaking exercise” to assess the numbers of European nationals living and working in the UK. “National Insurance numbers are useless and there isn’t any other way of determining how many are here or where they are,” the source said.

National Insurance numbers are useless and there isn’t any other way of determining how many are here or where they are

Immigration officials are also asking for feedback on the service and information about any glitches that the companies encounter. A government spokesman said the pilot was part of a Home Office programme to digitise visa requests, with the aim of eventually moving all applications online.

Jurga McCluskey, head of immigration at Deloitte — one of the firms taking part in the pilot — said the trial was a welcome indication that the Home Office is “thinking ahead” to its negotiating positions when Article 50 — the EU’s exit clause — is triggered to start formal talks.

“If we have EU workers with [secure residence] status, there could be provisions within government policy to protect them in the long term, meaning that free movement laws will continue to influence UK immigration policy for a period of time post-Brexit,” Ms McCluskey said.

However, she added that “questions will arise” over the status of EU nationals who have not been able to register, either because they are students or self-employed small business owners.

Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at PwC, which is also involved in the trial, suggested the new online process could help prevent backlogs and begin to categorise European nationals who are in Britain ahead of new immigration policies being introduced.

Ms Onslow-Cole said one-to-one clinics run by PwC at larger employers had led to immigration advisers being “inundated with requests for meetings”.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/115d97b8-6f80-11e6-9ac1-1055824ca907.html#axzz4J2e8G6QU

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