The UK Government has stated that, following the completion of its private pilots, the EU Settlement Scheme (the Scheme) will enter a public test phase on 21 January 2019.
This means that any EU citizen resident in the UK with a valid passport, and their non-EU citizen family members who hold a valid Biometric Residence Permit, will be able to submit their application under the Scheme using the EU Exit: Identity Document Check app. EU citizens who do not possess valid passports will have to wait for the Scheme to fully open, which is due to happen by 30 March 2019, before they can make their applications.
The Government is clearly pleased with how the testing of the Scheme has proceeded to date. However, it is important to note that only employees in the higher education, health and social care sectors have so far been able to apply. Since all these individuals work in the public sector, it is perhaps not a surprise that their applications have been straightforward and approved quickly, since it is to be expected that all their HMRC and DWP records are up to date.
This next phase of the roll out is likely to be the severest test of the system to date since EU nationals who have been either self-employed, studying or self-sufficient in the UK will now be able to apply. This group of individuals are more likely to have incomplete, or potentially no, records with HMRC and DWP and may therefore be required to submit additional documentation evidencing their continuous residence in the UK. The Home Office has already stated that it is increasing the size of files EU nationals can upload in support of their applications.
It is therefore likely that the time taken to process applications will increase significantly beyond the 24 hours that some applications are currently taking to complete. It will also be interesting to see how the app's IT infrastructure and Home Office caseworkers cope with the anticipated flood of applications when the next test phase starts on 21 January 2019, a significant proportion of which will not be straightforward.
EU Settlement Scheme rolled out to public test phase