The Home Office scheme would see the 3.4 million EU citizens signed up to an ID system and assured of settled status – with the EU now put on the spot to protect UK expats in Europe.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the system would protect EU citizens in Britain, who she described as “our friends, family and colleagues”.
She said “we want them to say” and pointedly put the pressure on Brussels to do the same to for overseas UK citizens.
Ms Nokes said: “EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society. They are our friends, family and colleagues and we want them to stay.
“This is an important step which will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need to continue working and living here.
“We are demonstrating real progress and I look forward to hearing more detail on how the EU will make reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU.”
The Home Office said EU citizens applying for the scheme would need to complete “three key steps: they will need to prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK, and declare that they have no serious criminal convictions”.
If successful, they will pay £65 for an adult or £32.50 for a child under 16.
Anyone already granted permanent residence can exchange their current documents for free.
However, think tank New Philanthropy Capital analysed other registration schemes from across the globe and warned most were unsuccessful in involving even close to 100 percent of the targeted population.
They said even a relatively high 95 percent take-up rate in the UK would see a huge number of unregistered EU nationals.
They said: “If just five percent of the estimated 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK do not register by the deadline, this would be a population of 170,000 left without status.
“Therefore the government should invest in information and outreach in order to make the scheme a success.
“Many successful registration schemes take several attempts even if they were initially intended as being one-off, involve a learning process over several years as well as a large resource commitment.
“Here the UK has little historical experience compared to other European countries.”
Rachel Harvey, associate and business immigration specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said the “immigration puzzle” remained despite the new policy.
She said: “This statement puts more flesh on the bones, but the immigration puzzle is still far from complete. The streamlined online application system will be welcomed by EU nationals currently living in the UK, but it still leaves questions unanswered for employers looking to recruit EU employees after the implementation period ends.
“This announcement makes it clear what needs to be done to help EU workers remain living and working in the UK up until 31 December 2020 and will help employers set out a clear recruitment strategy.
“The timelines, processes and documents required for obtaining status documents are all simply explained, and this will cut through some confusion. However, this doesn’t answer the wider question about whether sourcing EU talent will still be a viable option in the future.
“The drip feed of information about immigration policy has gone on for too long. Individuals and businesses across the UK are still waiting for more clarity around what the future immigration system will look like. We can hope that the Migration Advisory Committee report later this year will provide some indication, but until then we’re all waiting with baited breath.”