Some five million citizens of the European Union, including just over 320,000 Spaniards, have applied to be registered as residents in the United Kingdom days before the deadline for submitting applications expires on June 30. The registration operation, which began in March 2019, has exceeded the estimated figures for community residents by around one million.
The application system is also open to citizens of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and of other countries, when they have any family or welfare ties with Europeans. In total, there are more than 5.6 million applications, which have been resolved with 52% of concessions of “settled status” and 43% of “pre-settled status”.
It is an ‘astonishing success’, according to Catherine Barnard, head of a team from the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ network of scholars, who this week presented a report on the process. It complies with what was agreed by the United Kingdom and the European Union in the Withdrawal Agreement, to preserve the rights of British and community residents.
It offers the settlement to those who had lived five years in a row in the country before January 1, 2021 and the temporary one to those who have not yet served that time. The success is due to the simplicity of the application, using a mobile phone application. The British Government has funded an intense publicity campaign and subsidized associations to reach vulnerable residents.
Diplomatic delegations have joined the effort. The British Embassy in Madrid has held hundreds of meetings with its residents. The one in Spain in London opened the Brexit Single Window to respond by email to residents’ questions; and the embassy and consulates have sent postal mail to those over 70 offering help with the application.
Although the last phase and the process of legalization of the residence raises some unknowns, the situation is less uncertain than in the first stages of ‘Brexit’, when the Government of Theresa May seemed to use the letter of the three million community residents (the figure that was estimated) in its negotiation with Brussels. When the legalization system was designed, the application had a cost.
Radical Brexiters, like William Rees-Mogg, protested. “Telling them (the community members) that their lives are going to change because we have changed our relationship with the EU seems unfair to me. We should be honored that you have come to this country. We should give up the 65 euro fee, ”he said in January 2019. And May quit.
In the first weeks of the start-up of the procedure, a peak was reached in the number of applications, which peaked in September and October 2019, when the ‘Brexit’ policy was more bitter, with uncertainty about an exit abrupt. And the number has reached the level of the initial momentum in December, when the die was already cast.
David Casarejos, representative of Spanish residents in the United Kingdom in the General Council of Spanish Citizens Abroad, points out the unknowns that remain in the air and that coincide with those pointed out by the academics. In the first place, the absence of a document that proves the settled status. Those accepted receive a digital code filed by the British Home Office.
The Ministry affirms that the code is a permanent guarantee in a country that does not have an identity document, but the question is whether the small businessman or the owner of a flat for rent, both obliged to confirm the status of legal resident of the contracted party, will receive as an unnecessary complication having to connect to the internet to verify the existence of the digital certificate.
Spanish diplomacy explains that there is a very varied casuistry: vulnerable people, children taken in by social assistance, … If the initial inquiries to the Embassy’s Single Window were initially about pensions, taxation, health card, … now it is about cases peculiar, such as those of parents who do not know that they have to apply for their children.
The pandemic forced the closure of senior centers, imposed restrictions on consulates. Students or employees who have spent it in Spain due to the cancellation of teaching in person or the recommendation to work at home are concerned about the calculation of that time. The British Ministry promises flexibility and pragmatism, and assures those who await the resolution of their application that they preserve their rights.
This process coincided with the ‘Windrush generation scandal’. Dozens of immigrants and children of immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly from Caribbean countries – whose citizens had British nationality as subjects of the Crown – were deported. Hundreds were left without a home or access to public health or social benefits due to lack of documents to prove their circumstances.
Such a terrible example encouraged many Spaniards residing in the United Kingdom to seek more guarantees by acquiring British nationality. But a barely publicized and well-known rule requires that within three years they must confirm their desire to retain their nationality of origin so as not to lose it; and with it community rights. At the London Consulate, the nationality confirmation files have increased tenfold.
Casarejos warns that Spaniards by choice, immigrants who acquired a Spanish passport by residence, who now live in the United Kingdom, may be the most affected by not knowing the norm. He believes that it is “a horrible moment” to apply it to a community of residents stressed by the drifts of ‘Brexit’. I also miss. To renew the Spanish passport, a certificate from the British Government that you do not have a British passport is now required
The consulate is looking for a new headquarters. The current building is inadequate for the demand for services in normal times. And in that pressure cooker for employees and visitors, expiring passports are urgently renewed (23,000 appointments in four months) in a population that has gone from the 177,000 residents registered in the consulates to the more than 320,000 who have requested settlement. .