It appears only EU citizens with Android devices may be able to stay in the U.K. after Britain exits the union. The British government is planning an app to help EU citizens apply to stay in the U.K. after Brexit, but the Brexit app only supports Android phones for now.
What’s the problem for iPhone users?
According to the BBC, the app is part of the British government’s plan to assist the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the U.K. and enable them to easily apply for “settled status.” To apply via the Brexit app, users must answer three “simple” questions and take a selfie, which will be checked against the Home Office records. According to the Home Office, the decision on whether or not they can stay in the U.K. will be made within two weeks.
Users will also have to scan the chip on their passport using their smartphone to verify their identity, and this is where iOS comes up short. The passport can be scanned only using an Android phone. Users with an iPhone will either have to borrow an Android phone or use the U.K. Visa and Immigration Service to mail their passport.
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Thus, the process will take more time for iPhone users, but the issue could be solved if Apple pushes out an update to support passport scanning. A phone’s NFC reader is responsible for scanning the chip inside their passport, and this is where the problem lies.
Android allows developers to read and write data through NFC protocols freely. However, Apple has limitations in place when it comes to giving developers full access to the NFC chip inside iPhones. This is why the U.K. government’s Brexit app won’t support iOS.
Home Office in talks with Apple
Home Office officials were aware that such an issue would occur with iPhones. However, they were hoping that Apple would update iOS to allow iPhone users to scan their passports the same way Android users can.
Home Office officials even visited Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino to discuss the matter with Apple executives. However, the company has not yet committed to changing its NFC policy. The BBC notes that the British government is still in talks with Apple “at the highest level.” The Dutch government is also in talks with Apple to loosen its NFC policy. The Dutch government also plans to offer apps with the facility to scan passports.
Apple practices strict control over how the NFC chips in iPhones can be used. Apple debuted NFC chips with the iPhone 6 to support Apple Pay transactions, and with iOS 11, Apple expanded the CoreNFC framework to allow limited access to third-party app developers. To scan using the NFC chip, users must launch the app and keep it open in the foreground.
This year’s iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR support background reading for NFC chips. However, there are limitations. The data encoded in passport chips does not follow the set standards of the CoreNFC framework. Until Apple changes its NFC policy or makes some adjustment for the Brexit app, EU citizens with an iPhone will have to borrow an Android handset to send their application or use the mail option.
Other handsets that won’t support the Brexit app
The Home Office has finished private testing of the Brexit app among 650 National Health Service and university workers in northwestern England. The Home Office is now working to launch the app to the public in the New Year.
To help users without smartphones, those who lack the needed digital skills, and iPhone users, the Home Office has awarded a £91 million contract to France-based Sopra Steria. The company is entrusted with installing computer terminals at 56 local libraries around the U.K.
Despite such facilities, if Apple fails to join the U.K. government’s cause, it would be a big setback for the government, which is focusing on the convenience and ease of citizens. Apple’s iPhone account for 50% of the market in the U.K., while the other 50% is with Android.
Microsoft and Blackberry OS phones, which account for about 1% of the market, will also not support the Brexit app. Phones running older versions of Android and handsets that lack the needed hardware won’t be able to scan passports either.