Theresa May to publish 'user-friendly' process for EU nationals living in the UK post-Brexit
Theresa May is promising to make it as easy as possible for EU nationals living in the UK to secure their future rights after Brexit.
Under detailed Government proposals, EU citizens who have been living in Britain for five years will be able to apply for "settled status" - guaranteeing their right to stay in the country - after the UK has left the bloc.
The plan received a frosty reception from other EU leaders when the Prime Minister outlined the UK offer last week in Brussels, with European Council President Donald Tusk saying it was "below our expectations".
The Government paper published in Parliament on Monday, however, stresses that the authorities will do all they can to simplify the process of applying for settled status - effectively granting indefinite leave to remain - while keeping the costs down.
"The administrative procedures which they will need to comply with in order to obtain these new rights will be modernised and kept as smooth and simple as possible," the paper said.
"Our aim is to make the application process as streamlined and user-friendly as possible for EU citizens and their families lawfully resident in the UK."
Among the measures being considered is matching with HM Revenue and Customs records to show someone has been living in the UK continuously for five years rather than, for example, requiring them to produce five years' worth of pay slips.
The paper said the Government intends to maintain existing rights to benefits, healthcare, education and other economic rights "in the expectation that these rights will be reciprocated by EU member states" for British nationals living in the EU.
It confirms ministers have yet to decide when the cut-off date will be for EU nationals to be able to qualify to apply under the five-year residency rule, although it will be no earlier than March 29 2017 - the date the Government triggered Article 50 - and the date the UK actually leaves the EU.
EU nationals who have been in the UK for less than five years will be able to carry on living in the country and then apply for settled status once they have clocked up five years continuous residence.
Dependent relatives who join an EU national in the UK before Brexit takes place will also be able to apply for settled status once they have been resident for five years.
The paper promises there will be no "cliff edge", with EU nationals being given a two-year "period of grace" in which to make their application. Under the Common Travel Area arrangements, Irish nationals will not have to apply.
Nevertheless, with an estimated 3.2 million EU nationals currently resident in Britain, the Government is keen to encourage as many as possible to apply before the Brexit arrangements are finalised to ease the pressure on the system.
"The Government does intend to introduce a voluntary scheme to enable eligible EU citizens to apply for their permission to stay and residence document before the UK's withdrawal from the EU," the paper said.
"This will enable them to obtain their UK immigration status at an early stage should they wish to do so, in order to ensure as smooth and efficient process as possible for EU residents."
Applicants for settled status will face criminal record checks to exclude those who are "serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK".
The paper stresses the Government's determination that the continuing rights of EU nationals in the UK should be enforceable through the British courts and not the European Court of Justice as the European Commission is demanding.
"The Court of Justice of the European Union will not have jurisdiction in the UK," it said.