2017-01-23

Germany is Responsible for the Plight of EU Families in the UK (and other alternative-facts from the Brexit camp)

One of the Brexiters' favourite memes at the moment (oft repeated in the press) is the one that lays blame for the fear and uncertainly being suffered by EU citizens living in the UK at Angela Merkel's door. Take this recent tweet I received - after complaining that the UK Government were threatening to deport my wife (which, at the moment, they still are):

First of all, it should be pointed out, the EU has very little control over how individual EU countries deal with their non-EU residents. For example, the UK's arrangements for Australians or Pakistanis who wish to come here and reside here are very much our affair not the EU's. So a "reciprocal" deal between the UK and the EU, in the way May talks about this, simply is not possible.

It is the UK who has decided to strip its own citizens of their EU citizenship and EU citizens of their rights in the UK; so the current predicament is entirely of our making. We cannot somehow shift the responsibility to the EU.

It is true that May offered to discuss this, not to "settle" it, before submitting Article 50. Who knows whether there will be an agreement on this with all 27 countries or how long such agreements might take? But the suggestion that there might be "pre-discussions" (about anything) before submitting Article 50 was rejected not by Germany but by all 27 countries unanimously - and they don't agree on very much unanimously these days. For obvious reasons, the rest of the EU want to stick to a firm timetable.

Moreover, there are other problems with the notion of negotiating "reciprocal arrangements" with the EU. There is no symmetry between the distribution of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe. Quite how the Home Office, or the UK’s EU negotiating team, imagine that their threat to deport Germans (like my wife) will dissuade (say) the Spanish from deporting their large collection of UK pensioners (perhaps in a fit of pique over Gibraltar) is never made clear.

Sadly, the UK is not the only country in the EU which now has a right-wing nationalist and isolationist government in power. Hungary and Poland have taken similar directions and an even more lunatic and xenophobic party is on the ascendancy in France. It is by no means entirely beyond the cards that some other EU countries might, one day, start expelling British Citizens. We do not have to invoke Godwin's law and go back before 1945 to find examples of war, dictatorship, and ethnic cleansing in Europe.

Think about the position of our own Government! It is saying that if other countries refuse to allow UK citizens to remain once we are no longer in the EU (which would also, of course, be abhorrent) we shall retaliate by expelling law-abiding EU families - who came here legally and in good faith - from the UK. Such retaliation would be morally reprehensible - whether the citizens in question were originally from a country expelling our citizens or originally from a third country.

And even to threaten such a thing is morally reprehensible.

While many EU leaders are doing their best to try and make it possible for UK citizens to acquire some kind of "associate" EU citizenship post-Brexit (though this very well might not happen - it's complicated) the UK is going out of its way to make life for its EU citizens as difficult as possible.

The UK, for practical and political reasons, and for reasons af basic human decency needs to unilaterally guarantee the rights of its EU citizens living here; and it needs to do it now.

2017-01-19

Sorry this is about the Home Office and Brexit again

STOP PRESS!

The Home Office have quietly changed their online PR application form (though not the paper form which many categories of  applicants are still obliged to use):

MANY EU CITIZENS NO LONGER NEED TO LIST EXITS FROM AND ENTRIES TO THE UK! 

The form is still riddled with errors. For example, if you say "yes" to the question as to whether you have "ever" received Child Benefit, you are then asked how much you are receiving. If you answer "£0", your answer is rejected. So, if you are not getting it now, you are forced to go back and lie and say you have never received Child Benefit. And there are many such problems with the form. But the onerous, spiteful, and impossible-to-comply-with requirement to list your trips away from the UK is no more.

I wonder where this decision came from?

For even more background see: EU citizens in the UK are already facing Home Office threats
The background to this post:
EU citizens (such as my German wife - who has lived and worked here for 31 years) who wish to apply for UK citizenship or guarantee that they won't be expelled from the UK post-Brexit have to obtain a "Residency Permit" from the Home Office. The relevant 85 page form asks (inter alia) for a list of every date of departure and date of return for every trip away the UK since the applicant entered the UK.
5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?

Yes/No

If yes, please give details in the tables below. Continue on a separate sheet if necessary and enclose with your application.
The kind people at the Home Office have now conceded that "only" five years of entry and exit dates are required (though they have not corrected their form). But I did not know this originally (I took what it said on the form at face value - silly me) so I thought I should write to them and ask about this:
To: nationalityenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

Dear Sir/Madam

My wife of 31 years is a German citizen and has lived with me (and worked) in the UK since 1985.

Our understanding is that, in order to apply for UK citizenship, my wife will first need to apply for a residency card.

The form for applying to UK citizenship asks her to list all trips away from the UK for the past 3 years (again as we understand the form) but the application from for a residency permit seems to require us to list all trips for the past 31 years.

Please could you confirm whether this is really the case. Does my wife really have to try and remember every single trip she has made since she came to live in the UK or will her trips over the qualifying period (3 or 5 years) suffice?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
I received an automated reply:
From: NationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

IMPORTANT - PLEASE READ THIS MESSAGE AS THE INFORMATION YOU REQUIRE MAY BE GIVEN BELOW. YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE ANOTHER RESPONSE

RTFM [I paraphrase]

What should I do if I have a different nationality related enquiry that has not been covered by this message or by the website links provided? You should call our Contact Centre on 0300 123 2253 or email us at: FurtherNationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk (you should provide your name, date of birth, place of birth, current nationality, immigration status and Home Office Reference number where known. A telephone number should also be provided so that we may contact you. We aim to respond to your enquiry within 20 working days.
Since I had "read the ******* manual" I wrote again:
To: FurtherNationalityEnquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-06

My wife of 31 years is a German citizen and has lived with me (and worked) in the UK since 1985.

Our understanding is that, in order to apply for UK citizenship, my wife will first need to apply for a residency card.

The form for applying to UK citizenship asks her to list all trips away from the UK for the past 3 years (again as we understand the form) but the application from for a residency permit seems to require us to list all trips for the past 31 years.

Please could you confirm whether this is really the case. Does my wife really have to try and remember every single trip she has made since she came to live in the UK or will her trips over the qualifying period (3 or 5 years) suffice?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And received the following gracious reply:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-12

Dear Dr Ward

Thank you for your email correspondence of 6 January.

Please note, the onus is upon the individual customers to ensure that they satisfy the requirements set out in the guidance material that accompanies each and every application form. Therefore, you are advised to read through the guidance prior to submitting a future application.

If after reading the application guidance you are still unsure as to the requirements for the application you wish to submit you should seek independent immigration advice.

Immigration advisers can help you with immigration matters, including completion of forms and representing you at a tribunal. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) regulates immigration advisers, which means they must meet certain standards.

Please see the link below to find an immigration advisor:

https://www.gov.uk/find-an-immigration-adviser

We are unable to advise you any further on your enquiry.

Yours sincerely

XXX
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
I was disinclined to let this pass:
To: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-12

Dear Ms XXX

Thank you for your email.

I have read the guidance material in depth. It is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory.

I asked a simple specific question. A simple answer to this question and a clarification on your website would make life much easier for three million EU citizens living in the UK and for your own officials who have to deal with applications from EU citizens.

I find your email discourteous and insulting.

Please could you advise me as to your complaints procedure.

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward
And received another reply:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-13

Dear Dr Ward

Thank you for your email correspondence of 12 January.

Please refer to the link below for information on how to make a complaint:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about/complaints-procedure

I hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely

YYY
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
So I thought I'd submit a complaint:
To: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-13

Dear Sir/Madam

[I reproduced the correspondence above and then said:]

This experience has prompted me to write to you. I have a number of concerns:


  1. The information on your website for people in our situation is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory. It should be improved.
  2. When people write to you pointing out problems with the information on your website, this should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt.
  3. I see no justification for your refusal to answer the simple question I raised. A simple answer would help me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if you clarified your website), and your own staff.
  4. Even if, for some reason, it is not possible for you to answer a question from a member of the public, I do not understand why you cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone.
I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And duly received a charming response to my complaint ... which didn't address anything in my complaint but which provided an answer the the question I'd asked in the first place:
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk [sic] 2017-01-18

Dear Sir [sic]

Thank you for your reply of 13 January.

If your wife is required to apply for permanent residency before applying for British citizenship, the qualifying period for a permanent residence card is 5 years under the EEA regulations. Therefore information regarding absences is only required for the qualifying period.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-a-document-certifying-permanent-residence-or-permanent-residence-card-form-eea-pr

Please note that as the onus is upon the individual customers to ensure that they satisfy the requirements set out in the guidance material that accompanies each and every application form, the UK Visas and Immigration is not able to give, indicate or advise upon the outcome of any such application prior to it being given full and careful consideration. Therefore, you are advised to read through the guidance prior to submitting a future application.

We are unable to advise you any further on your enquiry and you should seek immigration advice if you need help with permission to stay in the UK. Immigration advisers can help you with immigration matters, including completion of forms and representing you at a tribunal. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) regulates immigration advisers, which means they must meet certain standards.

Please see the link below to find an immigration advisor:

https://www.gov.uk/find-an-immigration-adviser

I hope this clarifies the matter.

Yours faithfully

ZZZ
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
I tried again:
To: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk CC: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-18

Dear ZZZ

While this is a response, of sorts, to my original question – a response which you initially refused to provide - it is not a response to my *complaint* (please see points 1-4) below. Since I have received an unsatisfactory response to my complaint, I should now like to escalate my complaint. I note that https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553890/Complaints_Management_Guidance_September_2016.pdf Section 7.1 states:

“When any verbal or written response to the complaint is provided, the complainant must be informed about how they can take forward their complaint if they are not satisfied with the reply. SOPs include templates and standard paragraphs containing the prescribed wording.”

So you are in breach of your own rules here. I now look forward to a review of my original complaint by someone at Grade 6 or above [you see I've been RTFM!]

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward
For once they got straight back to me (though obviously without reading anything I'd written to them first):
From: generalimmigrationenquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk [sic - not, I note, from complaints] 2017-01-18

Dear Sir [sic - they do know my name and I haven't been knighted yet]

Thank you for your further reply of 18 January.

Please refer to the following link regarding the complaints procedure. [...errrrmmm are we not going round in circles a bit here?]

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about/complaints-procedure

I am sorry I am unable to assist further. [further?]

Yours faithfully

ZZZ
Customer Service Operations
UK Visas and Immigration
So I've tried to escalate matters:
To: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-18

Dear Sir/Madam

I should like to add the behaviour of Ms ZZZ (please see below) to my escalated complaint.

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward

[record of correspondence so far]
I have just received a reply. Needless to say, my complaint was not upheld.
From: lsecsu@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-01-27

Thank you for your email correspondence of 18 January, where you have raised a complaint about the handling of your enquiry of 13 January.

I have assessed the circumstances relating to the matter you have complained about. With this work now complete, I have based my response on my findings. I am not upholding your complaint and I hope my reply helps you to understand the reasons why.

You have expressed your dissatisfaction at the misleading information on our website and have asked for it to be improved. You also say that you have received an unsatisfactory response to your complaint asking if your wife needed to apply for permanent residency before she could apply for British citizenship. You have requested that we escalate your complaint as you feel we are in breach of our own rules.
I am sorry to hear of your experience in using the website, we find customer feedback valuable in order to improve the services provided and your comments have been forwarded on. Further feedback can be provided via the following website address: www.gov.uk/contact/govuk

Our records shows your email dated 13 January about the advice you received from the Nationality Enquiries Team was forwarded to General Immigration Enquiries who are not part of the Complaints Team. They replied to your email on 18 January. I am sorry if you were dissatisfied with the information provided.

[more information about recruiting an immigration adviser]
I am now escalating my complaint to complaintsreview@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk - this is clearly going to the Ombudsman
Dear Sir/Madam

I write to request a review of my complaint CMS Reference: 131-137272.

I should like a review because you have not addressed any of the complaints I made.

NB I did not escalate my complaint because I felt you were in breach of your own rules. I escalated my complaint because the original response I received was unsatisfactory. Your response was also in breach of your own rules, but that was not the reason I found it unsatisfactory. I found it unsatisfactory because it did not address my complaint.

My original complaints were that:


  1. The information on your website for people in our situation is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory. It should be improved.
  2. When people write to you pointing out problems with the information on your website, this should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt.
  3. I see no justification for your refusal to answer the simple question I raised. A simple answer would help me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if you clarified your website), and your own staff.
  4. Even if, for some reason, it is not possible for you to answer a question from a member of the public, I do not understand why you cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone.
To which I added a specific complaint about ZZZ’s rudeness towards me in her responses to my original complaint.

My reasons for asking for a review are as follows:


  • You still have not corrected your form which still asks “Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?” [5.3];
  • you have not apologized for the behaviour of your staff (in initially refusing to answer a simple question);
  • you have not apologized for the rude and hostile tone of you staff in all their correspondence with me; and
  • you have not given any indication that you would expect your staff to behave in a different fashion in future.
I look forward to your response

Yours faithfully

Dr Michael A Ward
And since the Home Office have now confirmed to me twice in writing that the wording of the form is incorrect, I though I should take up the suggestion that I provide feedback "via the following website address: www.gov.uk/contact/govuk":
I submitted the following message on 2017-01-27

At 5.3 the form states:

5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK since you/they entered?

Yes No

If yes, please give details in the tables below. Continue on a separate sheet if necessary and enclose with your application.

It should say

5.3 Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had any absences from the UK during the five-year qualifying period?

(at least according to the letter I received form Robert Goodwill MP - the Immigration Minister)

The online version of this form has the same error. Please could you correct it ASAP as this is causing a lot of confusion and distress for EU citizens applying for proof of residency.

I have just received a reply.
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-01-31

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

Thank you for your message. Unfortunately the GOV.UK support team can not provide direct advice on visas, application process/timeframes, immigration or general guidance.

You must contact the UK Visas and Immigration team (UKVI) directly for advice:

- https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi/visas-and-settlement

[lots of other URLS]

Kind regards

DDD

GOV.UK

Government Digital Service

I have, of course, responded (I'm a stubborn old bugger):
2017-01-31

Dear Ms DDD

Thank you for your email, but you seem to have misunderstood my message to you.

I do not require any advice on visas, application process/timeframes, immigration or general guidance.

I simply wanted to draw you attention to an error on your website.

When I drew this error to the attention of UK Visas and Immigration team, they suggested I got in touch with you. I understood them to be saying that correcting the website is your responsibility not theirs.

Please could you correct the forms on your website. You can confirm that this is an error by speaking to UKVI or to Robert Goodwill MP.

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward

Another reply
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-02-03

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

Your feedback has been passed on to the team at the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) who manage this material. They will review your comments, but will only be able to deal with your query if it relates to an error with the website or its content.

In the meantime your original query with GOV.UK will now be closed.

Best wishes

I got straight back
2017-02-03

Dear Ms DDD

My query does relate to an error with the website and its contents.

I have already been in touch with UKVI. They put me in touch with you.

I do not understand why you are being so difficult about this. Why not simply correct the error?

Yours sincerely

Dr Michael A Ward

And, to DDD's credit she got straight back to me:
From: support@govuk.zendesk.com 2017-02-03

Dear Dr Michael A Ward

You were previously told incorrect information. GOV.UK cannot advise.

The content you are querying in the PDF guidance is managed and owned by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). I have to pass over to them for them to reply to you directly.

Best wishes

I rather doubt I shall hear back from UKVI regarding the incorrect form, but I do expect a response to my complaint review. When they reject it I shall take it to the Ombudsman.
And here we are:
From: LSECSU@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk 2017-02-20
Dear Dr Ward
Thank you for your further email correspondence of 27 January about the handling of your previous correspondence. I am conducting a review of your complaint following your further submissions.
Your complaint
You remain dissatisfied with the handling of your complaint. You say that our previous reply of 27 January did not fully address your concerns. You maintain that the response you received from Ms Zzz on 18 January was rude. You reiterate that we initially refused to answer a simple question about the requirements for your wife to qualify for permanent residency. You also say that your comments about the section relating to absences on the EEA (PR) application form have been ignored. You would like an apology for the reply received by Ms Zzz and an indication of expected staff behaviour in the future.
My decision
I should clarify that your email of 13 January, which you routed through our complaints email address, was not considered to meet with our definition of a complaint. It was therefore sent to our Public Enquiries team for reply. For this reason, Ms Zzz’s reply did not provide you with information on how you can escalate your enquiry should you remain dissatisfied.
Unfortunately, from looking at your email again, it is clear that this was a mistake on our part. Your correspondence was in relation to dissatisfaction with a previous reply you received from our Public Enquiries Team and it should have been handled through our internal complaints process. I am very sorry for this oversight.
However, Ms Zzz’s reply did provide you with the answer to your query. While I am sorry if you felt the rest of her reply was rude, we are not always able to provide specific answers in relation to an enquiry. Ms Zzz’s reply was explaining when we are unable to provide information. I am satisfied that her reply was not intentionally rude, however I have asked that the way this information is conveyed to the customer is looked at again.
I would like to thank you for highlighting that the information on the EEA (PR) application form is contradictory to what is contained on our website. Officials are already looking into this, and are also working to make the form more user-friendly and accessible to applicants. Feedback such as this does help us to improve our services.
In view of the above information, I am satisfied that your complaint on this matter is partially upheld. A reply to your enquiry was provided, although not through our complaints channel, and I am satisfied that Ms Zzz’s reply was not intentionally rude.
My response now concludes our internal complaint procedure but should you remain dissatisfied with this reply, you may raise the matter with Dame Julie Mellor, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (see her website: www.ombudsman.org.uk).
Yours sincerely
Nnnnn
Head of Performance and Customer Service
Even more conciliatory in tone - which is a big step in the right direction - but they still have not corrected their form and they're not going to and they are still going to carry on being beastly to anyone who has the audacity to question the instructions on their website. Onwards and upwards:
To: Ombudsmand via Naz Shah MP by snail-mail 2017-03-09


The details of your complaint

I complained that the information on the Home Office website for people in our situation was labyrinthine, ambiguous, and often downright contradictory and suggested it should be improved. (The final response from the Home Office does at least say that its officials are "looking into this".)

I also said that when people write to the Home Office pointing out problems with the information on its website such submissions should be welcomed by the Home Office as useful feedback rather than treated with contempt. (The final reponse from the Home Office partially concedes this point but offers no apology for the original response.)

I complained that there was no justification for the Home Office's initial refusal to answer the simple question I raised and pointed out that a simple answer would have helped me, millions of others in the same boat (at least if they clarified their website), and the Home Office's own staff. (The final response from the Home Office alludes to this point but does not address it.)

I concluded by suggesting that even if, for some reason, it is not possible for the Home Office to answer a question from a member of the public, I did not understand why they cannot respond using an apologetic tone rather than using a rude, hostile, and condescending tone. (Again, the final reponse from the Home Office alludes to this point but does not address it.)

I then added a specific complaint about Zzz’s rudeness towards me in her responses to my original complaint. (The final reponse from the Home Office devotes a lot of attention to this aspect of my complaint and acknowledges that the Home Office made a mistake but does not address the general problem - of which Ms Zzz's behaviour was merely a symptom.)

Did the organisation miss any of the issues you raised in your complaint?

The Home Office have still not corrected their form https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/505032/EEA_PR__03-16.pdf which asks “Have you (or has your sponsor, if applicable) had *any* absences from the UK since you/they entered?” [5.3] and asks applicants to list them all.

The Home Office have still not apologized for the behaviour of their staff (in initially refusing to answer a simple question);

The Home Office have still not apologized for the generally hostile and antagonisitc tone of their staff in all their correspondence with me; and

The Home Office have still not given any firm indication that they would expect their staff to behave in a different fashion in future.

How have you, or the person you represent, been affected by what has happened?

My wife and I, already very upset by the uncertainly over our future which Brexit has caused were extremely distressed by the hostile and antagonisitic attitude of the Home Office and their refusal/failure to correct incorrect and misleading information on their web site.

If we are able to take on your compalint, what are you hoing we can achieve?

A correction to the instructions on form https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/505032/EEA_PR__03-16.pdf which states that only five years of entry and exit dates are required.

A genuine apology for the hostile and antagonistic tone of Home Office immigration and visa staff and assurances that the Home Office will adopt a less hostile and antaognistic stance in future.
Reading the Home Office's Complaints guidance for UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force I note that
  • Incivility.
  • Brusqueness.
  • Isolated instances of bad language.
  • An officer’s refusal to identify themselves when asked. [and]
  • Poor attitude, for example, being unhelpful, inattentive or obstructive.
are all considered "minor misconduct complaints" and are "complaints about the professional conduct of IBD staff [...] which are not serious enough to warrant a formal investigation". If such complaints are substantiated "they would not normally lead to discipline (misconduct) proceedings". So I'm not holding out much hope of getting a reasonable - or even remotely civil - response to my complaint. But we shall see.
Watch this space for any further developments!

2017-01-18

There's no place like the Home Office





For background see: EU citizens in the UK are already facing Home Office threats

Unless something very big starts happening very soon, two or three million [1] EU citizens will wake up in the UK on the morning of 2019 April 1 without continuing permission to remain working, studying, or living here. This is, I submit, going to be a bit of a problem.

The Government have made it very clear that, as they put it, they 'want to protect the status of EU nationals already living in the UK' and that 'the only circumstances in which that would not be possible is if British[2] Citizens' rights in other EU Member States were not protected in return'[3].

This statement chills me to the bone.

Quite how the Home Office, or the UK’s EU negotiating team, imagine that their threat to deport Germans like my wife Karin will dissuade (say) the Spanish from deporting their large collection of UK pensioners is never made clear. Nor is the question ever addressed of whether – even if the Spanish (perhaps in a fit of pique over Gibraltar) decided to deport hundreds of thousands of Brits (a move that would clearly be morally reprehensible) – it could ever be morally justifiable to retaliate by deporting law-abiding families (Spanish or otherwise) from our country.

But let us assume that the remaining 27 EU countries[4] do not wish to start rounding up and expelling UK citizens and that the Home Office finds itself able to grant permission for most or all of the EU citizens already here to stay[5]. What will happen then?

Theresa May has made it very clear that she considers keeping new EU students and workers out of the UK is more important to her even than the prosperity of the UK. There will, it must therefore be concluded, have to be some way of distinguishing between EU citizens who are and are not entitled to continue living, working, and studying here. The current Home Office system whereby EU citizens may obtain a Residency Permit is positively Kafkaesque and up to 30% of EU applicants are actually being turned down because they cannot satisfy the absurdly onerous conditions imposed by the Home Office[6]. If we are going to process three million people in two years we need a new regime and we need plans for that new regime now - if not by several months ago.

Since my wife and I are directly affected by this situation, I decided to write to the Government (through my MP) and ask them what their plans might be. I reproduce my correspondence below:
2016-12-15

Dear Ms Shah

I write as one of your constituents.

My wife (a German – and thus an EU - citizen) has lived with me in Bradford since 1985. I understand that, under international law, the UK government will not actually be able to deport her once Brexit goes through, since she has been here more than five years[7], but we are very worried about what *is* going to happen.

At the very least, I assume she will require some kind of proof of residency or risk being turned away at the UK border whenever she returns from visiting her family in Germany or goes abroad on holiday or with work. Even if German citizens retain the right to visa-free *travel* to the UK, this will not allow them to enter the UK to continue living and working here – without any required papers.

We are investigating obtaining a residency permit (EEA PR), but this requires Karin to fill in an eighty-five page form – including listing every trip she or I have made abroad during the last thirty-one years. Since we both travel a lot – on business and for pleasure – the list will be almost impossible to draw up with any guarantee of accuracy.

Obviously, in the end, we shall have to try and complete this form and assemble the sheaves of documentation required, but this raises another concern: I understand there is already a huge backlog in processing applications for residency. Once Article 50 is submitted and the two year countdown to Brexit is underway, this backlog can only increase. And there are three million EU citizens living and working in the UK.

I realize that Theresa May’s government refuses to offer any guarantees on the continuing rights of EU citizens (something I find appalling, but we are where we are) but could you ask the government (on our behalf) for some kind of guidance as to what the arrangements are going to be – post Brexit – for EU citizens who *are* given the right to remain in the UK (especially those who, like my wife, have acquired rights under international law which can’t simply be negotiated away )?

Specifically:
  1. Will there be some kind of fast track system under which EU citizens can register or will they have to apply for residency under the existing procedures?
  2. What will happen if the backlog in the system prevents EU citizens living here obtaining the required papers in time for April 1, 2019? Will they be trapped in the UK until things are sorted out or will there be some kind of transitional arrangements?
We both lead busy working lives and we need to begin planning ahead. I don’t think it is unreasonable of us to request timely and clear answers to these questions.

Yours sincerely

etc
I have just received a reply from the Minister for Immigration Robert Goodwill. It was rather less hostile in tone than his recent letter to The 3 Million[8] and than any of the correspondence I've received from the Home Office (nothing, for example, about the "onus" being on EU citizens) but did not answer or even address either of the questions I asked.

2017-01-13

Dear Naz Shah

Thank you for your letter of 15 December 2016 on behalf of your constituents Dr Michael Ward and Mrs Karin XXXXXXXXXXX about the arrangements for European Union (EU) nationals after the UK leaves the EU.

As the Government has said, there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of EU nationals currently residing in the UK and they continue to be welcome here. EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our economy and our society. The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living in the UK, and the only circumstances in which that would not be possible is if British citizens' rights in other EU Member States were not protected in return. The Government intends to reach agreement with the EU on this issue as soon as possible.

More information on the rights and residence requirements of EEA citizens in the UK following the referendum is available here: www.gov.uk/qovernment/news/statement-the-status-of-eu-nationals-in-the-uk.

You asked about the arrangements for EU nationals applying for residence documentation. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) staff are deployed according to demands on the service. Currently, all residence documentation applications from EU nationals are being considered within the published service standards.

I note your constituents are concerned about the length of the application forms. The application forms are designed to cover a range of scenarios in which an applicant may qualify. No applicant is required to complete every page only those sections that are relevant to their circumstances.

The forms are also accompanied by comprehensive guidance notes to assist applicants in submitting the relevant supporting documentation.

Applicants who, like Mrs XXXXXXXXXXX, have lived in the UK for a number of years do not have to provide evidence covering their entire period of residence. Applicants can, in principle, focus on any continuous five-year period of qualifying residence. However, if the period of qualifying residence ended more than two years ago, she must also provide some evidence that she has not been continuously absent from the UK for more than two years since then.

UKVI continue to make applications quicker and easier and are working to digitise applications to provide a more modern service that is in line with modern consumers. As part of this, we recently added two EEA application forms to our online application service. These are currently available for applicants who meet specific conditions but we are currently working towards expanding the service to those who apply on behalf of themselves and family members. With digitisation, the online forms are able to screen out any irrelevant questions, depending on the application type and previous answers given.

Finally. if Mrs Karin XXXXXXXXXXX was [sic] to submit an application online, she may be interested to know that it is not necessary to surrender her passport and be without it while her application is being considered.

Since October 2016, the European Passport Return Service has been provided by local authorities for EEA and Swiss nationals applying online using the EEA(PP) or EEA(PR) application forms. A participating local authority can photocopy an EEA or Swiss passport and forward a copy to the Home Office on the applicant's behalf. Further information is available at https://www.qov.uk/qovernment/collectionsteuropean-passport-return-service.

I trust this answers your constituent's concerns.

Yours sincerely

Robert Goodwill

You may have your own opinions on whether EU citizens "continue to be welcome here". Anyway, I have just replied:
2017-01-18

Dear Mr Goodwill

Thank you for your letter of 2017 January 13 which Naz Shah’s office has forwarded to me.

Far from answering my concerns, your letter has increased my concerns. Moreover you do not answer, or even address, either of the questions I actually asked.

You make the chilling suggestion that, if British Citizens’ rights were not protected in EU countries (which would obviously be entirely unacceptable too) you would retaliate by expelling law-abiding people who came here legally and in good faith. I find this suggestion morally repugnant.

You also provide a lot of information about the information and facilities on your website and the process for submitting our documents (which involves a 30 mile round trip in our case) but I was well aware of all of this when I wrote in the first place. Your website is labyrinthine, ambiguous, and – in places – downright contradictory. I am grateful for your clarification that my wife only need fill in 5 years of travel dates not 31. Perhaps you might suggest to your staff that they correct the instructions on your site? (Though I do not really understand why we have to provide these dates as this is information that the Home Office already has – automatically from the airlines and ferry companies – and information we do not really have.)

In conclusion, I note that, by default, three million people will wake up in the UK on the morning of 2019 April 1 with no permission to remain working, studying, and living in the UK. Assuming that you do decide to allow most or all of them to stay and assuming that you are going to prevent new EU migrants from coming here to settle, study, and work after that date (unless they have special permits) I submit that you are going to need some way of distinguishing between the two categories of EU citizens. I therefore assume that you are making plans for new systems that will be fit for the purpose of issuing appropriate documents to three million people over the next two years. I do not think it is unreasonable for people in our position to ask what those plans might be.

I repeat my two questions:


  1. Will there be some kind of fast track system under which EU citizens can register or will they have to apply for residency under the existing procedures?
  2. What will happen if the backlog in the system prevents EU citizens living here obtaining the required papers in time for April 1, 2019? Will they be trapped in the UK until things are sorted out or will there be some kind of transitional arrangements?
I hope you will now answer them.

Yours sincerely

etc
I had a reply (of sorts) from the Home Office (not a politician) which payed even less attention to anything I said in my letter than Robert Goodwill's response did, made claims that are blatantly false, and contained nothing but extreme pro-Brexit propaganda:

2017-02-17 
Dear Dr Ward 
Thank you for your letter of 18 January to the Minister for Immigration. As I am sure you can appreciate, the Minister receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to reply personally to each item received. Your letter has therefore been passed to the Direct Communications Unit at the Home Office and I have been asked to reply. 
In the referendum, the British people voted for control on the number of people who come here from the EU. Leaving the EU now offers us the opportunity to deliver that.
The Government's White Paper published on 2 February confirms that the UK will remain an open and tolerant country; one that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still. 
The UK needs a fair and controlled immigration policy and that is exactly what this Government will deliver. We want to see net migration to the UK fall to sustainable levels — the tens of thousands. But we recognise this is a complex issue and that there is no quick fix. 
The White Paper makes clear that leaving the EU must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain but there must be control. 
We are considering the options for our future immigration system very carefully. As part of that it is important that we understand the impacts of different options on different sectors of the economy and the labour market. 
Parliament will have an important role to play in this and we will ensure businesses and communities have the opportunity to contribute their views. 
The Prime Minister has also underlined that it would not be right for the Government to give a running commentary on negotiations. It is about developing our own British model so we will not make decisions until we are ready. We will work hard to get the right deal as we conduct our exit negotiations.  
I trust this clarifies the Government's position. 
Yours sincerely 
Mr Xxx 
Direct Communications Unit

I got straight back to them:

2017-02-23
Dear Mr Xxx
Thank you for your letter of 17 February. 
I am not sure when the British people voted for control on the number of people who come here from the EU. There was nothing about this on the ballot paper I was handed when I voted in the referendum.
In any case this has nothing to do with the questions I asked in my letter to Robert Goodwill.
I afraid that the UK has already become a far more closed and intolerant country.
But this too has nothing to do with the questions I asked in my letter to Robert Goodwill.
You already have full control over the numbers of non EU migrants coming to the UK and yet you have not  reduced their numbers to tens of thousands. Forgive me if I express scepticism that you will reduce migration from the EU to tens of thousands. Moreover it would be economically disastrous if you did.
But this too has nothing to do with the questions I asked in my letter.
I’m afraid the brightest and best are already leaving in droves and will increasingly shun the UK, its red tape, and its xenophobia.
But this too has nothing to do with my letter.
You may well be working hard to get a good Brexit deal with the EU. I don’t fancy your chances myself. But this, too, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my letter.
I asked two specific question in my letter to my MP who forwarded my letter to Robert Goodwill. He replied via my MP but did not  answer or address either of my questions. I responded – putting my two questions once more. You have now responded to me – obviously without reading anything I had actually written.
So let me put my two questions for a third time:

  1. Will there be some kind of fast track system under which EU citizens [currently resident in the UK] can register or will they have to apply for residency under the existing procedures?
  2. What will happen if the backlog in the system prevents EU citizens living here obtaining the required papers in time for April 1, 2019? Will they be trapped in the UK until things are sorted out or will there be some kind of transitional arrangements?
Perhaps you might now answer these two questions – even if only to say “We are not sure. We have not decided anything yet.”
Yours sincerely
etc


I doubt they will respond again.

It now seems I have exhausted all democratic avenues. So much for "getting back control".

  1. Depending on how many simply decide enough is enough and leave these shores before then; or who manage to find their way through the existing Home Office maze.
  2. Odd that they say "British" rather than UK. What about the Northern Irish?
  3. See eg letter from Robert Goodwill of 2017 January 13 in this blog-post.
  4. Of course there is the added complication here of the cut-off date. Will it be the date of the referendum? Such a decision would, whenever it were announced, retrospectively affect those who came her legally between the referendum and the date of any such announcement. Or will it be 2019 April 1? Such a decision might cause a stampede nearer the time. Or will it be some other date.
  5. The status of non EU citizens in EU countries is actually a much more complex question than the UK Governments seems to realize. Some matters are decided at the EU level but most are decided in the individual countries (think of how we treat (say) Americans versus how (say) Germany treats them).
  6. Brexit: 1m EU citizens in Britain 'could be at risk of deportation'
  7. It turns out that this is not actually true: Brexit: acquired rights report from the House of Lords European Union committee
  8. The Home Office responds to our question about deportation of EU citizens