Hundreds of thousands of applications for settled status have yet to be made, potentially meaning an increasing risk of people not registering in time, government figures suggest.
More than 2.7 million EU citizens currently living in the UK have applied for the status. Of these, some 2.45 million decisions have been made, with all but six applicants granted either settled or pre-settled status.
In December, the Home Office received 163,000 applications for the EU Settlement Scheme, bringing the total number of applications to 2,756,100 by the end of the year.
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However, an estimated 3.5 million EU citizens are currently living in the UK, meaning more than 743,000 additional applications could be submitted before the current deadline of 31 December 2020. This would mean processing more than 14,000 applications a week.
“There is still much work to be done but it all depends on whether people actually apply,” said Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells. “While the Home Office has actively marketed the EU Settlement Scheme and many employers have sent communications to their workforce to provide support with the process, there still remains a risk of people not registering in time.”
Patel raised concerns over the distinction between settled and pre-settled status, arguing something “as simple as pressing a wrong button on the application form” could lead to people being incorrectly granted the less secure pre-settled status. “It’s important that people don’t simply accept pre-settled status,” she said.
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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 live and work in the UK indefinitely after Brexit. Any applicants who 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.
The figures come as questions were raised in Europe over the future rights of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit. On Wednesday (15 January) the European Parliament raised particular concerns that recipients of settled or pre-settled status do not get a physical document confirming their status – potentially putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to renting a property or starting a new job.
But speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, said he had since secured confirmation from Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay that recipients of settled or pre-settled status would be able to download a printable document.
Verhofstadt also said it had been agreed that, even after the transition period, there would be no automatic deportation of EU citizens who had not applied for settled status. “There will always be people who don’t fulfill the procedures because they don’t even know they exist,” he said. “There will be a grace period… Even after the grace period there will be no automatic deportation.”
He added there would be the possibility after that period for EU citizens to apply for settled status if they submitted reasons why they missed the initial deadline.
Jonathan Beech, managing director at Migrate UK, said there was still uncertainty over the future of the UK’s immigration system, and urged businesses to start advising their European employees to register for settled status if they had not done so already. He said this would be particularly important in the case of a no-deal situation at the end of the month.
“There may only be a short window for EEA citizens to enter the UK to be able to reside and work without being subject to future UK immigration rules [in a no-deal scenario],” he said.
Looking beyond the end of the month, Beech said regardless of what is in the next immigration whitepaper, businesses should have until the end of next year to prepare. “But businesses will face an increase in costs associated with sponsoring EEA citizens entering the UK for work and long-term stay from next January,” he added.
“Should the current points-based system work, sponsorship and licensing process still be in place; existing sponsors must be compliant with the rules to avoid having licenses removed for non-compliance,” Beech said, adding that suspension or revocation of a licence could mean losing out on both EU and non-EU employees.