The minister for future borders and UK immigration, Kevin Foster, has claimed that the NHS and government systems can automatically cross-check records of EU citizens granted settled status to ‘reduce the burden on individuals to prove their UK immigration status – especially for those without access to digital devices.
The NHS practice of covertly checking the UK immigration status of foreign-born patients has long-been criticized by immigrant advocacy groups. Meanwhile, the government’s policy of refusing to offer any form of physical documentation that would allow overseas nationals to demonstrate that they have UK settled status has also been widely condemned.
Currently, to prove their status, EU citizens are required to enter their passport number into an online system and obtain a one-off code that is sent to an email address or phone number. The code can then be entered by an EU citizen, or for example, a potential employer or public service provider, to show that a person has UK settled status.
Disadvantage to those without technology access
However, concerns have been raised about the digital-only system disadvantaging people without access to technology. These concerns were recently raised in a written parliamentary question from Peter Grant, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, who asked whether the Home Office had given any further thought to issuing physical proof-of-status.
Mr Grant said: “Physical proof-of-status would be useful for people who do not have access to IT equipment or their digital documents.”
In response to Mr Grant, Kevin Foster said that the decision to avoid hard-copy documents had been made subject to an equality impact assessment.
Foster said: “As part of the development of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), including the policy to provide those granted status with online evidence of immigration status instead of a physical document, consideration was given to the impact on those who may have limited digital skills or access to IT equipment.”
The minister for future borders and immigration added that the impact of a digital-only system had been further assessed since the launch of the EUSS and insisted that the government has tried to ‘take steps to ensure that those who may be less able to interact digitally are not disadvantaged’.
As part of implementing the digital-only system, the government has tried to ensure that public sector systems have the capability to share data with one another and that, should one agency or department have a record of an individual’s UK immigration status, this can be automatically communicated to other organisations.
Foster said: “[Steps taken] have included making information about an individual’s immigration status available automatically through system to system checks, at the point at which they seek to access the public services. Such checking services are already live for HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions and NHS England.”
“This will help to reduce the occasions on which an individual has to use the online service to prove their status. We would be pleased to work with NHS Scotland to implement a similar checking service there relating to services which are the devolved responsibility of the Scottish government if they wish to do so,” Foster added.
Additional support services
The minister for future borders and immigration also mentioned that additional support services had been put in place to assist those in need of help using the online UK immigration status service.
He said: “We have a dedicated phone helpline… where call operators can support users through the online journey, help them to access or recover their online account, help them to update their personal details and where necessary, share their status on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves.
“The Settlement Resolution Centre will also be able to assist those who are experiencing technical issues with their online immigration status, and if necessary, enable an individual’s status to be verified through alternative means,” he added.
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