The Home Office has come under fire over a social media message telling EU nationals they must apply and pay for the right to remain in the UK after Brexit.
In a Twitter post two days after Christmas, they were warned they would need to register for settled status to continue living here after December 31, 2020.
The Home Office tweet read: “EU citizens and their families will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 31 December 2020.”
It then directed them to a link to a Government website setting out the process for achieving settled status, the documentation required and the costs involved.
The timing of the post and the policy it promoted came under immediate criticism, but the Home Office insisted that the intention was to help EU citizens.
A spokesman said the process was designed to be ‘quick and user-friendly’ but critics described it as a ‘pay to stay’ policy.
Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: “A jolly message this Christmas from government to say Brexit means we want to charge you to live in the country you’ve made your home.
“EU friends and neighbours, you deserve so much better than this. UK – be better than this!”
Responding to criticism of the Twitter post, a Home Office spokesman said: “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and our society and we want them to stay.”
“It is vital that EU citizens and their family members know their rights and entitlements are protected.”
The Government says it is working on a presumption that EU citizens will secure settled status if they have proof of identity and pass criminal record checks.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants all three million EU citizens who live here to stay after Brexit, but she has been less clear about their rights if the UK leaves with no deal.
The EU says that in the event of a hard Brexit, visas and residence permits would be required for UK citizens visiting member states for more than 90 days.
It added that UK citizens who have lived in an EU state for more than five years should be granted long-term resident status, subject to conditions.
Under the Home Office system, EU nationals will have until June 30, 2021 to confirm their status at a cost of £65 for over 16s and £32.50 for under 16s.
They must have been UK residents before the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020 to be able to apply.
EU citizens who have lived here for five years will be eligible for settled status and those who have lived here for less than five years will be receive pre-settled status.
Any EU citizen who already has indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence in the UK will not have to pay the fees.
The online registration system should be fully operational by March 30 next year, just hours after the UK departs the EU.