Last month, Urszula Domagala gave us her account of applying under the first stage of the EU settlement scheme pilot.
Marcel Clusa recently applied under the second stage of the EU settlement scheme pilot, and we are very grateful that he has agreed to talk to us about his application process.
Please tell us a little about you
My name is Marcel Clusa, from Barcelona, and I have been living in the UK for just over four years. My UK experience started a long time ago though, when in 2008 I came to study a Masters at Bangor University, North Wales. After that, I went back to Catalonia for a PhD and in 2014, I decided to come back to North Wales, a place I had fallen in love with.
Since then I have been working at the International Office at Bangor University. As an International Student Support Officer, I give advice on immigration, support students with welfare issues and create events and projects to promote Welsh culture and integration of international students within the University and local community.
Participation in the pilot scheme is voluntary. Why did you decide to take part?
At the beginning I had my reservations about applying, especially because I was going for Pre-Settled status. Some EU citizens around me suggested maybe waiting as things are still being debated as I type, but the main two reasons that pushed me to do it were both professional and personal. I wanted to experience first-hand the application process so I could help students, staff and friends in the near future but also wanted to apply to feel a bit more secure. Not knowing what is going to happen can be a bit daunting so I thought that applying would put my mind at ease and could avoid potential long waiting times when the scheme is available to everybody.
What information were you given about the scheme before you applied?
A few months ago, I signed up to a Mailing List the Home Office created to keep EU citizens updated with any changes, and the Human Resources department at Bangor University has a designated team to support EU staff during the application process. About a month ago, we were told that all EU staff members were going to be allowed to apply through the pilot scheme, and the University sent really useful manuals on how to apply, who was eligible to do so, and under what conditions.
I did not talk to anyone about the scheme or how to apply as the information given by the government was very clear, very user-friendly and in general quite easy to follow.
I think students will find it easy to understand but we need to keep in mind that as Immigration Advisers we are used to seeing Tier 4 applications and we may forget how frightening it could be for an EU student who has never faced immigration rules before.
Please take us through each step of the application
The application in itself is pretty straightforward and it takes 4 main steps:
- Identity Verification – this is done through a new Home Office App
- Criminality Check – by declaring any criminal convictions
- Online Application and Residence verification - there are a number of ways you can do this. The easiest is to provide your National Insurance number. The Home Office will then check UK tax and certain benefits data, and use those records to help work out how long you have been resident in the UK. I received a result of this check straight away telling me I was eligible for PRE-SETTLED STATUS. If you agree with the result, you can then accept it and complete your application. If you disagree, this is not a problem, as you will be able to upload additional evidence of your residence
- Pay the application fee - an application costs £65 for those aged 16 or over but it is free if you have a valid permanent residence document or valid indefinite leave to enter or remain.
An email from the Home Office explaining all the steps and documents needed was sent prior to applying when registering for the Pilot Scheme and the instructions sent were quite self-explanatory.
I believe students will find it easy to complete. However, a friend of mine was very shocked and felt almost offended when she was asked about criminal convictions, being part of terrorist organisations and having extremist views. I think this might feel very hostile for someone who is not used to seeing visa applications regularly. When I saw it I thought it was normal and carried on without even thinking about it as I have seen it before when helping international students apply for their Tier 4. For people who are less used to it, however, I can see why this could feel intimidating and scary to some extent.
Can you tell us about the app for uploading passport details?
The app is used to verify your identity by taking a photo of your passport, scanning your passport through contactless technology, and scanning and taking a photo of your face.
I used this app and by far that was the most difficult part of the process. Granted this is a pilot but the instructions were not very clear as to what type of phones the app could be downloaded into. The instructions that were sent highlighted the fact that only Android phones could be used to download the app (no Apple phones at this stage of the pilot), however, that was not enough.
After failing to download the app in 4 different phones (Motorola and Huawei) I went through a few existing online forums and I realised that only Samsung Galaxy phones are actually appropriate for this. After running around the office looking for a Samsung Galaxy for 30 minutes I finally found one and from there it was pretty easy.
After downloading the app, the first thing I was asked to do was to scan my passport (a contactless process in which you just rest the phone on top of the passport and magically scans it for you). However, I tried to scan my passport multiple times and failed at it because apparently you need to remove any phone cases to make it work. Once I removed the case, everything went smoothly and I was asked to scan and take a photo of my face with the phone’s camera. After all this was done, I was ready to carry on with my application and fee payment.
In summary, if I had to give any advice on the app that would be:
- Use an up-to-date Samsung Galaxy phone (it can be a borrowed one)
- Remove any phone cases or other protection
- Make sure the internet connection is good
Were you concerned about scanning your passport on someone else's phone?
I wasn’t concerned about this, no. I just downloaded the app on someone’s phone and then deleted the app straight away. There is no record saved in the actual device, not even the photo taken is stored in the phone. It shouldn’t be an issue and no one can sign into your app profile as they send a 6-digit code to your email or phone every time you want to log in. It feels very safe and privacy has been taken into consideration.
Were you asked about absences from the UK and evidence you might need to deal with this?
I was not asked about it as the Home Office checks your UK tax and certain benefits data, and use those records to help work out how long you have been resident in the UK. I received a result of this check straightaway telling me I was eligible for PRE-SETTLED STATUS, which is what I was expecting, but I could have submitted extra documents if I had not agreed with that decision.
What evidence of your status have you received?
After less than 24 hours of applying I got a call from the Home Office to give me the decision of my application, which was successful, and to discuss any feedback. To be honest I was surprised to receive a call about it and thought it was a good chance to express any problems I had had with the app.
On the other hand though, I was disappointed to see that the confirmation of my status it was just a letter saying:
“I am pleased to inform you that your application under the EU Settlement Scheme has
been successful and that you have been granted Limited Leave to Remain (LTR) in the United Kingdom for five years under Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules. This is also referred to as pre-settled status. Your status takes effect from the date of this letter, which can be found above. Your pre-settled status in the UK can be confirmed online through the Home Office online checking service […] You may use the online service to show your pre-settled status in the UK. This letter is not proof of your status.”
So apparently it looks like we won’t get an equivalent to the BRP card or a letter to prove our status. I found that a bit unreliable as the Home Office could potentially modify conditions on our statuses without us having any record to prove our rights and conditions in the future. I would much rather have physical evidence of my status.
Do you have to do anything else now?
So far that´s all I had to do. No further information has been given.
To keep our online status up to date, we will need to tell the Home Office if we change our passport or national identity card for any reason. This can be done online so I assume the process should be easy.
What do you think about the scheme and/or the application process?
Even if the process is quite straight forward, it has got the potential to have a big impact on both new EU students and UK universities alike.
Registration for EU and Home students tends to be quite straightforward but I can foresee an increase in queuing times and problems as visa compliance staff will have to check whether all EU students have completed and obtained their permits from now on as well as overseas students. The application also mentions a home address so I am unsure if students will be allowed to apply from outside the UK or whether this is something students will have to apply for upon arrival. It will be interesting to see what the process will be like but its also worrying as this could potentially discourage EU students to come and study in the UK from now on.
Can institutions do anything now to support those thinking of applying under the scheme?
Bangor University has a dedicated team gathering information, and sends up-to-date notification about any changes happening. The support to staff has been very good from day 1 and they even organised a “Brexit Event” a few months after the vote to answer questions any of us might have and to discuss what the potential changes could be and how they would to affect us.
The University has also created an internal forum for staff to ask questions and share guidance and tips. This has been a fantastic idea and some staff members are “advertising” their Samsung Galaxies so anyone can contact them and use the app whenever needed if facing problems. I thought this was BRILLIANT! Big political and social changes such as the one the UK is going through can separate people and split a whole country in two but this example may be one of the many examples on how Brexit has also united many communities in many ways, overcoming difficulties faced by those affected.
It looks as if the process of leaving the EU is going to take a long time and there are still plenty of uncertainties in the air but if you are worried about your status after Brexit (as I was), I can assure you that applying will make you feel a bit better, more hopeful.
Good luck to all of you who will be applying in the next few months.
Happy Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, Bon Nadal!