Seventy-one Labour MPs and MEPs have accused the Home Office of “digital discrimination” for creating an Android-only app for EU citizens to apply for settled status.
In an open letter to home secretary Sajid Javid, frontbenchers including Luke Pollard, shadow environment minister, and Paul Blomfield, shadow Brexit minister, say the system “flies in the face of fair treatment of EU nationals”.
“After the Windrush scandal the public are acutely aware of administrative obstacles and difficulties within our immigration system,” the MPs say. “The settled status scheme for EU nationals must not be plagued with public distrust. But this operating system difficulty is not providing the confidence that the public, our EU friends and parliamentarians need.
Signatories include Emma Dent Coad, Harriet Harman, Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, Liz Kendall, Matthew Pennycook and Gordon Marsden. They say the system “is causing considerable distress to our constituents and places another barrier between them and post-Brexit certainty for themselves and their families.”
Applicants will be able to have their identity documents checked by post, and the number of document-checking centres will be expanded to more than 50
Since 21 January, the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK have been able to apply for settled status by using an Android-only app to confirm their identity using their passport, then complete their application on the gov.uk website by providing evidence they have lived continuously in the UK for five years. Anyone without the right phone can only verify their identity at one of 13 centres around the UK, but groups such as the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, have been critical that people in some areas face long journeys. Cornish residents must travel to Bath, and the only Scottish centre is in Edinburgh.
On 30 March, the day after Britain is due to leave the EU, applicants will be able to have their identity documents checked by post, and the number of document-checking centres will be expanded to more than 50. The Home Office says the current system is a “test” that is “entirely voluntary”.
“Promising it will be OK in the future doesn’t give our EU friends the certainty or confidence they need,” Pollard said. “Ministers are rolling out a system that is causing distress and concern. It should have been right for every EU national from the moment the scheme was launched. They should not have to wait for virtually the day we leave the EU to have a system that works properly.”
Many of the MPs say they have received correspondence from constituents anxious about their right to live and work in the UK after Brexit and are unable to finish their application because they don’t have the mobile phone type stipulated by the Home Office.
“This is a cruel and ridiculous oversight by ministers,” Pollard added. “We saw in the Windrush scandal how administrative errors caused genuine pain and misery for British citizens, but clearly these lessons have not been learnt.”
Blomfield said the government was making EU citizens “jump through hoops”.
“Requiring people to apply to secure rights that they have had for years is bad enough, but making the application process inaccessible adds insult to injury and risks people falling through the net,” he said. “The Home Office needs to get a grip on this as a matter of urgency.”
Jess Phillips, the Labour MP, has offered the use of her mobile phone to any of her Birmingham Yardley constituents and Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge has paid for two mobile phones for its staff to use.