The Home Office has been criticised for posting a message on social media urging EU nationals to apply “if they want to stay in the UK” after Brexit.
The tweet, sent on Thursday, tells EU citizens that they will need to confirm their status to “continue living in the UK after 31 December 2020”.
It sets out how they can register for settled status and the cost involved.
But critics said the timing of the campaign would go down badly while one MP said it was a “pay to stay” policy.
Theresa May has said she wants all 3 million EU citizens currently living legally in the UK to stay after the UK leaves the EU, irrespective of whether the UK’s withdrawal agreement is passed by Parliament.
An online system for EU nationals to register their details will open fully on 30 March 2019, hours after Brexit is scheduled to take place.
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EU nationals will have until 30 June 2021 to confirm their status. It will cost £65 for those over 16 and £32.50 for those under 16, although there will be no charge for those who already have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or permanent residence.
People will have to have been resident before 31 December 2020, when the proposed post-Brexit transition period ends, in order to apply.
All those who have been living continuously in the UK for five years will be eligible for settled status, giving them broadly the same rights as they have now.
Anyone who has not be in the UK that long will be eligible for pre-settled status and be able to qualify for settled status once they have completed five years residence.
EU citizens and their families will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 31 December 2020.
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) December 27, 2018
The Home Office’s Twitter message briefly explains the registration process, which it insists will be as “quick and user-friendly as possible”, and the documentation people will need to provide.
It states: “If you are an EU citizen living in the UK and want to stay in the UK after 31 December 2020, you and your family need to apply to the EU settlement scheme”.