Backlog of applications causing ‘rushed decisions’ on settled status, immigration lawyer warns

Concerns raised over 150,000 outstanding cases as employers cite ‘ongoing issue’ of communicating with staff about visa changes

A leading immigration law firm has warned that a backlog of applications means EU citizens living and working in the UK could be being incorrectly denied settled status, instead receiving the less secure pre-settled status.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, said such incidents were becoming an increasing concern, and that a growing backlog of applications could be pushing authorities into rushing decisions over EU citizens’ rights to stay.

Speaking to People Management, Beech said: “There has been a big jump in applications [for settled status] over the summer, especially for Polish citizens, and I think there is a current backlog of over 150,000 cases.

“This all really puts the pressure on [authorities] to come out with a decision on a case, rather than having the time to go back and ask the applicants for more information if it isn’t readily available from other government sources,” Beech explained.

He added that it seemed awarding pre-settled status was an “easy win” for the government.

The UK Settled Status Scheme is a Home Office initiative designed to provide EU citizens and their families living and working in the UK with a route to remain in the country after Brexit. It is open to all EU citizens who started living in the UK before 31 December 2020 or – in the event of a no-deal Brexit – the date the UK leaves.

Settled status can be claimed by EU citizens who have lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period and allows the recipient the right to stay in the UK indefinitely after Brexit. 

Any applicants that have not met the continuous residence threshold are given the more temporary pre-settled status, which only allows for a further five years of residence from the date the status is granted.

Beech called on government departments to consult with each other to establish if someone has been in the UK for five years, and said if evidence of residence cannot be found through official channels, said the Home Office should be going to the individual to get more information in support of their settlement application.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, told People Management that recent CIPD focus groups found employers were currently more focused on settled status and access to the settlement scheme than potential visa changes that could happen after Brexit.

"If employers are taking any action at all, the areas they are most likely to take action on is around providing support to their EU citizen staff to help them understand and apply for settled status," Willmott said. "That is where they are more proactive which is encouraging, and I think we would encourage employers to continue to communicate with staff."

Willmott highlighted communication around immigration rule changes has been an "ongoing issue" for HR because staff "forget stuff" and need to be constantly updated on changes.

He added consistent communication will build trust between EU staff and their employer because workers will feel their employer has "got their back" if HR is corresponding with them on this critical issue. 

This concern over settled status coincides with the release of a poll that finds more than half of recruiters feel they have not been given enough information about the settled status scheme.

A survey from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) revealed nearly nine in 10 (87 per cent) recruitment firms were concerned about the implications on retaining and finding talent should freedom of movement end in a no-deal scenario.

The poll of 1,000 recruiters also found over half (58 per cent) agreed a no-deal Brexit would have an “immediate and significant” impact on access to talent, while 55 per cent believed there was not sufficient access to clear guidance on the EU Settlement Scheme.

Tania Bowers, legal counsel at APSCo, said it was not surprising that the professional recruitment sector was worried about the political instability, and said “uncertainty remains” as to how future immigration changes will affect supporting the existing EU workforce and bringing new talent into the UK.

Bowers said the government’s whitepaper on immigration rules post-Brexit, published in December 2018, “fails to consider” the loss of EU self-employed contractors and temporary workers to the UK workforce. 

APSCo’s survey findings come on the back of recent CIPD research, which found most UK employers remain unaware of proposed changes to immigration rules which could make it more difficult to source lower-skilled workers post-Brexit.

The survey found the majority (58 per cent) of employers said they had no knowledge of the government’s plans to introduce a new skills-based migration system after the UK leaves the EU, while 56 per cent of employers said they didn’t have enough information to start making decisions about their post-Brexit recruitment strategy.

Only a quarter (27 per cent) said they were happy to make decisions based on the existing information.