Press play to listen to this article
LONDON — U.K. border officials have begun asking some EU citizens who live in the country to show evidence they are legal residents, in apparent breach of the law, according to EU diplomats.
Following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, border officials are entitled to ask questions to check whether a non-British national is entering the country as a tourist or as a resident. But EU diplomats say some officials have gone beyond that, requiring EU nationals living in Britain to provide documentation to prove their status — specifically that they have obtained settled or pre-settled status under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.
The deadline for EU nationals resident in the U.K. to apply for such status is June 30, so many do not possess such documentation. Border officials are not meant to ask for it until that date.
POLITICO is aware of cases affecting at least four nationals from Finland, Malta and Romania who were stopped at the border on their return home, although there is no official count of how often it is happening.
The lack of a physical ID card proving residence status under the scheme means that some of the individuals affected did not know how to respond to the border officials. Others tried to log in to the Home Office website while at the border post or showed print outs of their digital settled status certificate. That printed document is not legally considered evidence of settled status but in some cases was accepted by officials as proof.
Sirpa Arovaara, a Finnish national, flew from Helsinki to London Heathrow Terminal 2 on January 9 with her 11-year-old daughter. Families with children under 12 cannot use the electronic passport gates, so they had their documents checked by Border Force officials.
While queuing, an official shouted that they should have evidence of their Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR or EU Settlement Scheme) ready, or they would be fined. This came as a surprise to Arovaara, who has lived in the U.K. for nearly 20 years. She has been granted settled status but wasn’t expecting to be required to show proof of it. She logged in on her mobile phone and showed the screen to a second official.
“I felt we weren’t arriving in the U.K., it was more like the border control feeling you get in the U.S.,” she said. “The official told me that in the future it would make things easier if I printed out the first page of my ILR form and always have it with my passport. The official was friendly, I think he meant well. I thought, ‘Brexit had just happened and that was why they were asking for this document.’ I sort of blamed myself, I thought I might have missed some information.”
Two Maltese citizens sought support from the Maltese Embassy in London, after they were asked for proof of their residence in Britain when they tried to reenter the country at Heathrow airport earlier this month. “In both cases the Maltese Citizens held pre-settled status as granted under the EU Settlement Scheme and in both cases there seems to have been a misunderstanding at the U.K. border concerning the lack of physical proof of the said status,” a Maltese diplomat said.
One EU diplomat said the cases were probably down to officials not having enough clarity around the new rules, rather than a hostile environment toward foreigners.
“This is kind of a gray area,” they said. “The Border Force officials have the authority to try to determine who you are and even to ask you for details of your residence, but they cannot ask you for proof of your settled or pre-settled status.”
Meanwhile, passengers on a flight from Milan to London in early January were required to show they had proof of settled status before boarding their flight, according to a third EU diplomat.
The Home Office said Border Force staff have received a comprehensive training program on new procedures and has provided guidance to airlines.
“We have been clear that there have been no changes at the border for EU nationals coming back into the U.K. after travelling abroad — except those in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, which apply to everyone,” a government spokesperson said. “A person with status under the EU Settlement Scheme should continue to use their valid passport or national identity card to cross the U.K. border.”
Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email [email protected] to request a complimentary trial.