'EU citizen application as easy as driving licence renewal'
EU nationals applying for settled status in the UK could find the process as easy as renewing a driving licence, an immigration minister has said.
Brandon Lewis said he expected cases to be dealt with within a couple of weeks.
He said 1,200 staff were being employed to deal with up to 3.5m applications over the next two and half years.
But Labour's Yvette Cooper warned that the Home Office's record of mistakes in immigration cases meant many would take little reassurance from his words.
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Ms Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, pointed to a recent case when 106 EU nationals were wrongly sent letters ordering them to leave the country.
"MPs don't currently have the greatest of confidence in the casework capacity of the Home Office and the way it makes decisions," she said.
Mr Lewis said the Home Office swiftly accepted a mistake was made with the letters, and said all those affected were contacted within 24 hours to reassure them they had been sent in error.
He insisted the Home Office was adopting a "different cultural approach" to dealing with applications for settled status, with a presumption that applicants were likely to be allowed to stay.
Cases should be dealt with within a couple of weeks - and he hoped the new process would be as simple to use as applying for a driving licence via the DVLA, he said.
"We can say to people that they can have confidence in the system we are developing for next year, not just because of the resources we are putting into it, but because it is a different approach in terms of the presumption that we are granting status," he told the committee.
However, Ms Cooper raised the issue of cases where the Home Office makes a mistake and an applicant is deported before they can appeal. "You might not even know you have got it wrong until the appeal goes through."
Mr Lewis said it would not be possible to set out the precise terms under which settled status will be offered until the first stage of Brexit negotiations is concluded in Brussels, which he hoped would happen by Christmas.
He said he was planning to put IT systems in place for the first half of next year to allow applications to begin in the second half of 2018.
Some 1,200 officials are being recruited to UK Visas and Immigration to handle an expected 3.5m applications.
Ms Cooper questioned whether the additional workforce would be adequate, given that 6,500 staff are currently needed to deal with the three million cases it handles each year.
"You expect, in that two-year period, a 50% increase in the number of applications, but you are only projecting a 15% increase in the number of staff," she said. "Do you think that's enough?"
Mr Lewis said he was confident the extra staff would be sufficient, as applications for settled status would be much more straightforward than the bulk of cases handled by the UK visa and immigration service.