The scheme to register an estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK launched Monday amid criticism that it could lead to hundreds of thousands of people potentially being denied the right to remain in the UK.
All EU citizens who hold a valid passport and any non-EU citizen family members who hold a valid biometric residence card can now apply for “settled status”, but critics warn that thousands could be left without legal status to remain in the UK if applications are not in a speedy and efficient manner.
Vulnerable groups – including the elderly, people with limited English or IT skills, or people isolated from the wider community may particularly be affected.
Controversy over a £65 (Dh307) registration fee, however, came to a close on Monday as Prime Minister Theresa May announced the tariff would be scrapped.
The UK government says it has made the process as easy as possible, developing a smartphone app and investing £175m in the scheme. But those who took part in the two trial phases so far complained of being unable to download the app or finding additional support.
The government faced further criticism that the app was designed to be used on Android and failed to work on Apple's popular iOS devices.
Migration experts have warned the government that, if the procedure is not efficiently carried out, there could be a new, bigger Windrush scandal – referring to the events in 2018 when people were wrongly detained or deported following the decision by Mrs May to introduce a set of policies to make life as hard as possible for people without permanent residency.
EU citizens and their family members will have until June 30, 2021 to apply, at a cost of £65 for adults and £32.50 for children under 16.
The Home Office maintains the EU Settlement Scheme will ensure all EU citizens living in the UK will have a status granted and the procedure will be “simple and straightforward”.
The UK is still struggling to move past the Brexit impasse following the failure to approve a deal to exit the European Union.
Mrs May is expected to speak at parliament on Monday to lay out her plan B to and to reject calls to forge a cross-party consensus, choosing instead to back new diplomatic efforts in Brussels to renegotiate the Irish backstop.
The prime minister was rumoured to be travelling to Brussels as early as Monday evening, but Downing Street denies it will be that soon.
The failure to reach a deal before the official deadline of March 29 could force the UK into a hard Brexit that many say would ruin the British economy.