More than two million EU citizens have so far been granted settled status, official figures have shown, as experts warn those who fail to apply on time could face the UK’s “hostile environment” approach to immigration.
Numbers from the Home Office revealed that out of the 3.8 million applications received by the government’s EU Settlement Scheme up to 31 July, more than two million have been granted settled status, giving them the permanent right to remain in the UK after the Brexit transition period ends.
On top of this, almost 1.5 million were granted pre-settled status, which allows recipients to remain for five years, after which they become eligible to apply for full settled status.
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The figures, which include all applications since the scheme opened, showed that 4,600 applications were refused, 36,500 were withdrawn or void and 34,900 were invalid.
Commenting on the figures, Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells, said the number of invalid applications was “relatively high”, and called on the Home Office to publish detailed reasons why applications are considered invalid.
Patel also warned that the EU citizens who failed to apply for the scheme in time could find themselves subject to the government’s “hostile environment” policy – a set of immigration policies designed to make staying in the UK difficult for individuals who don’t have leave to remain.
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“I have concerns that elements of the hostile environment may kick in if individuals haven’t applied for status by the deadline – especially if they can’t demonstrate reasonable grounds for missing it,” she said, adding that applicants don’t have to accept pre-settled status – which is less secure than settled status and requires the applicant to apply again for settled status after they have been in the country for five years.
“[Applicants] can upload additional evidence to confirm their period of residency which will then be considered by a caseworker. In essence, they get a second bite of the cherry,” said Patel.
Patel added that organisations could signpost employees to government advice on the settlement scheme, but cautioned against asking employees directly whether they had applied, in order to reduce the risk of discrimination between those who have and haven’t applied prior to the deadline of 30 June 2021.
“There may be non-discriminatory reasons for employers to ask about this and they are entitled to do so in those instances, for example, when they are seeing if their staff need any further assistance around the use of the mobile app,” she added
Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, said there had definitely been a “sharp increase” in the number of applications voided or refused when compared to previous figures. But, he said, it was unlikely that this was due to a change of policy by the Home Office.
Instead, he said, it was likely that the Home Office was working through its backlog of more complicated cases that needed attention from caseworkers. “Being more complex means there is a higher chance of there being problems with the case, hence refusals or voided applications,” he said.
Lockdown could also be affecting caseworkers’ ability to request further information from applicants, which could explain the increase in video cases, he said: “Being overseas [or locked down] could mean the messages are not getting through to the applicant and after numerous attempts to contact the person, the caseworker decided to refuse.”
“Maybe the Home Office is closing a lot of cases where there has been no response,” Beech added.