EU citizens scramble to prove UK residence

by Luke Lythgoe | 24.02.2017

The final months of 2016 saw the highest number of EU citizens applying to the Home Office for documents which prove their residency in the UK – despite a nightmarish process involving an 85-page form.

Newly released official statistics show an even greater number of applications in the final quarter of 2016 than in the months immediately following June’s referendum. This may reflect continued uncertainty around the status of EU citizens resident in the UK, and the complicated and time-consuming application process.

The total number of applications to the Home Office – whether documents were issued, refused or the application was invalid – rose by over a third from 56,000 to 77,000 between the third and fourth quarters of 2016. Compare that to the 26,000 applications at the end of the previous year.

There are a few possible reasons for the continued rise. Immediately after the referendum it seemed the status of EU citizens in the UK would – indeed should – be settled pretty quickly. But since then uncertainty has reigned, with Theresa May accused of treating EU migrants like pawns in her negotiation strategy. Even now the issue is being hotly debated in Parliament and Brits are protesting on the streets in solidarity. The ferocity of the argument makes acquiring some form of official documentation seem like an increasingly smart move for EU nationals.

Then there is the bafflingly arduous application process, which no doubt put many off at first. The application form is 85 pages long with 18 additional pages of guidance notes. The Home Office can take as long as six months to process an application, although they are currently trialling a speedier online version.

Marika, a Polish national who moved to the UK in 2010 to study, now works as a digital graphic designer for a major UK retailer. She recently applied for documents to prove her permanent residence.

“For me the most difficult part was being asked to remember every time I left the UK since I arrived. When I moved here I had braces, so I was going back to Poland every 10 weeks to see my dentist. It probably took me six straight hours to dig out all my old travel records, and even then I had to admit I wasn’t sure I got them all.”

Having paid £65 plus additional fees to send her application, almost two months later Marika was told it had been rejected because she had been out of the country for more than six consecutive months – travelling with her British boyfriend. The forms do not make this rule clear, and it didn’t seem to matter that her belongings, bank accounts and even student debt were all in the UK at the time.

Marika is now uncertain about her future in the UK. “If they make me pay a visa fee to work here, I think I will choose to live somewhere else.”

This system isn’t just overwhelming for applicants. Unless an efficient solution is found soon, determining the status of EU citizens in the UK could become a debilitating strain on the Home Office. The 133,000 applications received in 2016 since the referendum are just a fraction of the 2.8 million EU citizens currently living in the UK. A cross-party inquiry led by British Future has calculated that, based on the current rate of processing, the Home Office would need 150 years to clear every case.

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Edited by Stewart Fleming