On 24 May 2021, the Home Secretary announced further plans for the digitalisation of the immigration system. This intention is that by 2025 the system will be fully digital from beginning to end. The Home Office’s vision is that not only will we continue to use online forms and upload supporting evidence, but all biometrics will be given via apps and individuals will prove their status at the border and to third parties by using a digital record rather than a physical document. As previously announced, the Home Office will also introduce an Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme akin to the United States’ ESTA programme. More detailed information is available in the policy paper published that day, New Plan for Immigration for legal migration and border control.
To date, the use of digital status has not been without controversy. Digital status is being given to EEA nationals who have been granted leave under the EU Settlement Scheme (the EUSS). Under the EUSS, EEA nationals are given a digital record rather than issued with a biometric residence card or any physical evidence of their settled or pre-settled status. Indeed, the grant letter issued to EEA nationals even expressly states that it is not proof of the person’s status. Instead, the Home Office runs a “view and prove” system which requires EEA nationals with status under the EUSS to trigger a share code when they need to prove their status, e.g. to an employer.
The 3Million, an organisation which seeks to protect the rights and interests of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit, sought to challenge this. It argued that the digital-only policy meant that EEA nationals with status under the EUSS had to be able to access and use the internet effectively if they were to prove their status to third parties. This was likely to disadvantage some groups, including older people, people with certain disabilities and the Roma community.
On 3 May 2021 the challenge was brought to an end by the Administrative Court when it refused permission to bring a judicial review. However, this is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Permission was refused primarily because the claim was regarded as ‘premature’. This is because until the end of June 2021, EEA nationals can still rely on their EEA documents to enter the UK and prove their status. It is only from 1 July 2021 that people will need to rely on the digital system alone.