The Public Law Project has warned that millions of EU citizens with settled status may face discrimination and other problems when looking for jobs and somewhere to live from June 2021 as they will have no physical or paper-based proof of their right to work and live in the UK.

Read: Digital Immigration Status: A monitoring framework

In their report, Digital Immigration Status: A monitoring framework authors Dr Joe Tomlinson and Alice Welsh say that relying on online status alone is risky and call on the Home Office not to rule out bringing in a paper-based back-up.

Dr Joe Tomlinson said: “EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status will need to prove their status to employers and landlords to get a job, find somewhere to live, and to access basic services. For those who must prove their immigration status, the stakes are high. A paper-based back-up would be a sensible precaution. Most people would be pretty nervous if the only evidence of their passport or driving licence was stored on a server.”

“The assumptions by Government appear to be that ‘digital only’ status will be easier to access, cheaper and more secure.

“Our analysis shows that some of these assumptions are at the very least questionable and lacking foundation in evidence, and that a digital-only system creates a real risk of harm.”


Research underpinning a recent case found that 65% of landlords would not rent to someone who needed time to provide documentation and that 85% of landlords did not respond to applications from prospective tenants who required the use of an ‘online checking tool’. Exiting the EU Committee and Home Affairs Select Committee have both flagged similar concerns about the impact of digital only status.[1]

Digital exclusion

PLP’s report breaks down the number of steps it takes to prove status to an employer or landlord using the digital only process; it is 8 for the prospective employee and 9 for the employer.

Dr Joe Tomlinson said: “It is true that for a lot of people the process will work well enough, but that will not be the case for everyone, including low-digital skill users. There is an obvious risk that this group will be at a real disadvantage when it comes to applying for jobs and somewhere to live. The Government has acknowledged this.”[2]


Another presumption the report challenges is that digital-only status will address problems with theft, loss or forgery of physical documents. Put simply, there are a range of ways by which control over someone’s digital status could be exploited, particularly for vulnerable people such as those who have been trafficked or who are for some reason digitally excluded.

Lessons from Windrush

Dr Joe Tomlinson said: “The roll out of digital status is happening in the wake of a scandal where migrants of the Windrush generation were systematically denied rights and, in many cases, wrongly removed from the UK due to the Home Office’s failure to recognise their status.

“The Home Office faces acute challenges in establishing public confidence in its new role as guardian of digital status due to persistent concerns about the accuracy of its records, a lack of institutional responsiveness to individual circumstances, and general procedural issues such as delay.”


The report recommends that the roll-out of digital status is monitored closely and carefully and that any monitoring should be comprehensive and ‘open to the possibility of paper-based immigration status being the only solution to the shortcomings of digital status, at least in respect of certain people.

‘Our analysis of the design and roll-out of digital status in the UK so far suggests that there is sufficient risk inherent in the transition that a period of issuing both paper-based and digital status would have been a suitable precaution’ – Digital Immigration Status: A monitoring framework

Joe Tomlinson and Alice Welsh recommend that three questions should be at the heart of any monitoring work:

  1. Does digital status make managing and accessing immigration status easier or more difficult for the holders of status, the government, and third parties?
  2. Does digital status enhance security of status or undermine it?
  3. Does digital status benefit or disadvantage vulnerable holders of status?

The report also recommends that reviewing the operation of digital status should be a key part of the priorities of the new Independent Monitoring Authority for Citizens’ Rights Agreements.

[1] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, EU Settlement Scheme: Fifteenth Report of Session 2017–19 (HC 1945) [65] and House of Commons, Exiting the European Union Committee, The progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal: the rights of UK and EU citizens (2017–19, HC 1439) [48]

[2] Government Digital Service, ‘Prove your right to work – beta’ (Service Standard Reports, 2 March 2018)