When applying to the European Settlement Scheme from within the UK, most third country nationals (i.e., non-Europeans) will already hold a Biometric Residence Card issued to them because of their right to reside in the United Kingdom under European law. This document proving their status, the Biometric Residence Card, will have been issued under the EEA Regulations.
Third country nationals who have not previously held a Biometric Residence Card issued under the EEA Regulations will be invited to attend an appointment to provide their biometric data with the Home Office provider Sopra Steria. If the application for pre-settled or settled status is granted, the individual will be issued with a Biometric Residence Card under the European Settlement Scheme.
However, those third country nationals who apply to the European Settlement Scheme and already hold a valid Biometric Residence Card issued under the EEA Regulations are currently not issued with an updated Biometric Residence Card.
For example, a third country national who submits an application with two weeks left until their card issued under the EEA Regulations expires will not receive a new Biometric Residence Card under the European Settlement Scheme. The Home Office has confirmed this is because their card is still valid at the time the application was made. They have also confirmed this is the case even if the EEA card has expired by the date of the decision. An individual in this scenario will therefore also not be issued with a new card automatically under the European Settlement Scheme.
While third country nationals have their status recorded digitally on the European Settlement Scheme online portal accessible through Gov.UK, if they do wish to obtain another Biometric Residence Card to reflect their new immigration status, they must make a further application and re-submit their biometric data. Third country nationals are likely to need to do this in practice, given that their status is not linked to their passport, as is the case for European nationals.
Yet unfortunately the decision letter currently sent to applicants who have successfully obtained status is silent on this point and gives no guidance or a link to the appropriate page on the Home Office website where one can apply to update their Biometric Residence Card under the EU Settlement Scheme.
This lack of clarity raises practical issues. While we understand the Home Office plans to move the immigration status of all migrants to a digital only status, this has not yet happened, meaning third country nationals still need to evidence their status to carriers and border staff through a Biometric Residence Card when returning to the United Kingdom from abroad. Unaware that this is the case, we have heard reports of confusion by airline staff and border personnel, difficulty at the border and in several cases people left stranded outside the UK.
Third country nationals granted status under the European Settlement Scheme therefore do require a valid biometric card reflecting their current immigration status. Yet, if they fall into one of the scenarios outlined above, the process to update to a new card is unclear, costly (there is a Home Office fee of £75.20) and lengthy (the Home Office state these applications can take up to six months to be decided).
Instead, we believe all third country nationals should be given Biometric Residence Cards automatically up until the point that the Home Office can rely on digital immigration statuses for all migrants. These cards should be issued at the time the applicant is granted their new status, solving the practical difficulties faced by those third country nationals already holding at the date of application a valid Biometric Residence Card issued under the EEA Regulations.
If you require immigration advice in relation to the issues above, we can help. Please contact us on 020 7401 6887 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org