UK Home Office drafts in five consultancies to develop EU nationals app

11 May 2018 5 min. read

As the debate as to what kind of deal will be made for EU nationals residing in the UK – not to mention UK nationals residing in the EU – rages on, the UK Government has tapped a collective of five consulting firms to develop an immigration app, designed at registering EU citizens post-2019. Accenture, BJSS, Capgemini, Deloitte Digital and Worldreach will now develop the platform that will ultimately be used by millions of EU citizens to apply for settled status.

All eyes are currently on the immigration policy of the British state, which at best has been described as hapless, and at worst as xenophobic, over recent years in particular. Since the shock referendum result of 2016 delivered the verdict that the general public – excluding EU nationals who were excluded from the poll – no longer wished to remain in the European Union, countless stories have been leaked to the British press of long-time residents, often in highly skilled jobs, receiving notice from the Home Office that they are likely to be expected to leave after Brexit comes to fruition.

While the majority of these notices have since been dismissed as bureaucratic mistakes, not to be taken as indicative of post-Brexit immigration policy, the UK’s Government has also been fumbling with the Windrush scandal – a crisis of its own creation, whereby the destruction of landing cards by the Home Office saw thousands of Commonwealth migrants threatened with deportation after decades in the UK. With the 2019 deadline for negotiations with the EU rapidly approaching, and still no concrete deal on immigration to speak of, only one thing is for certain; the mechanism for dealing with settled status applications will need to be flexible, agile and accessible.

UK Home Office drafts in five consultancies to develop EU nationals app

To this end, the Home Office has inked a deal with five professional services firms to create a digital application for the three million EU citizens in the UK. The app is expected to condense the 85-page permanent residency application expatriates are presently subjected to into a 10 to 20-minute process, involving an applicant scanning in their passport and national insurance number. The platform, which will be available online or via a mobile phone app, will launch later in 2018.

In order to deliver that Accenture – which is already in the process of designing a new border security app for the Canadian Government, in order to promote frictionless travel between the North American country and the Netherlands – has been hired alongside rapidly expanding digital consultancy BJSS, Capgemini, Deloitte Digital, PA Consulting Group and Worldreach. The groups running the programme will work in small scrum teams together, with its deadline rapidly approaching. According to reports in The Guardian, the digital system was actually ready to be road-tested in January, however the scrums have since been put back to work, as the Home Office was forced back to the drawing board after Prime Minister Theresa May warned there would be no automatic right to remain for EU citizens coming to the UK after 29 March 2019.

The remaining lack of certainty around UK immigration policy remains a key concern for both the designers of the app, and for those who will ultimately be using it, meanwhile. According to Maike Bohn, spokeswoman for campaign group 'the3million', while the app might theoretically expedite a long and difficult process, developing something ahead of an agreement with Europe makes little sense.

On top of this, she added, "We know from experience with big tech roll-outs that they can be prone to glitches. What happens if there is an error and someone is rejected? If someone is refused because of one mistaken click they can instantly lose their right to live and work in the UK, with disastrous consequences. There is a technology problem and there is a people problem – we need to make sure as much care goes into supporting the users than will no doubt go into developing a good app."

Commenting to IT journalist platform The Register, an insider added that one of the biggest concerns around the project is a lack of clarity in policy. They said, "The technology, one would hope, would come after the policy is done and dusted and, last I checked, there was still considerable uncertainty over where that had all got to and who was going to decide and when. The sexiest app in the world is no good if it doesn't align to policy. Whatever that turns out to be."

Certainly, the unknown aspects of future immigration policy are already leading a number of EU migrants to consider leaving British shores – potentially costing UK businesses millions of pounds in terms of lost talent, amid an ageing population and a growing skills gap. With Brexit negotiations continuing to cast doubt over freedom of movement between the UK and Europe, young, well-educated and high-earning EU nationals are the most likely group to be planning to return to the mainland. As many as 10% of EU nationals with post-graduate degrees, who earn above £50,000 a year are considering the move, creating the potential for a large talent shortage for employers, and placing a strain on public services such as the NHS.