Locked NFC reader keeps UK government Brexit visa app from working on iPhones

Efforts by the UK government to have 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK apply for “settled status” before the completion of Brexit have hit an obstacle, as the mobile app it developed to simplify the process with a selfie and document scan will not work on iPhones, which make up roughly half of the UK market, the BBC reports.

The app checks the user’s selfie against Home Office records and asks three questions, and allows users to scan the chip embedded in their passport with a smartphone’s NFC chip, but only on Android. Microsoft, Blackberry, and legacy Android operating systems also do not include the NFC chip technology necessary for EU residents to avoid sending their applications to the UK Visa and Immigration service by post.

iOS includes controls limiting the use of iPhone NFC chips to Apple Pay and a select few other applications. The BBC reports that Home Office officials were aware that Apple devices were not able to use the app when they announced it earlier this year, but hoped, along with others, that the company would remove the limitations with the rollout of iOS 12.1, but it has not. Home Secretary Sajid Javid visited Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters to make his case for the update, but Apple has kept the NFC chip locked for security and commercial reasons.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes blamed Apple in an appearance before the the Home Affairs Committee, saying the company “won’t release the upgrade we need in order for it to function.” Sources told the BBC that the firm and Home Office are continuing to work together, but progress is uncertain as Home Office expands trials of the app ahead of a planned launch in the new year.

The Dutch government has also called on Apple to unlock its NFC readers.

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