What happens to EU citizens if they miss the settled status deadline?
The Home Office is receiving up to 120,000 new applications a day for the scheme, say reports
Thousands of EU citizens living in the UK risk being stripped of their rights as the deadline to apply for settled status looms.
While over five million applicants have already been granted some form of settled status before today’s deadline, there are fears for thousands of vulnerable and elderly EU citizens who are yet to apply, with efforts to meet the deadline “hampered by jammed Home Office helplines, website delays and overwhelmed advisers turning applicants away”, reports The Independent.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was launched in March 2019, in order to register EU citizens as settled residents in the UK after the end of the Brexit transition period and freedom of movement.
Once applicants have been granted settled status, they can continue to live, work and study in the UK, use the NHS and access public funds and benefits.
However, last-minute applicants have described the “frustration” of trying to get through to Home Office helplines that cannot accept calls because of the “excessive numbers” of people looking for advice, while a 20-page online application form is “full of bugs”, forcing applicants to make “a duplicate application on paper”, reports The Guardian.
Millions more than expected applied for the scheme; in March 2019 there were said to be 3.7 million EU nationals in the UK but 5.6 million applied for settled status – and the Home Office appears to be struggling to keep up with the demand.
There are reports of a backlog of more than 300,000 applications, according to Sky News, and a surge in applications means more than 120,000 people have been applying each day. The Home Office admits it could take months to process them all.
Many EU citizens fear they could become stuck in “legal limbo” or become “unlawful” because of processing delays, says Lisa O’Carroll in The Guardian.
Elena Remigi, of the In Limbo Project, which is documenting the experiences of EU citizens in the UK, told the paper: “The anxiety among EU citizens is palpable. My inbox is full of messages of people asking for reassurance or guidance. Many tell me that all the helplines are busy and they don’t know what to do.”
Labour has called on the government to extend the deadline for applications, warning that they risk creating another “a Windrush-style scandal” with thousands of citizens eligible for settled status falling through the cracks, reports PoliticsHome.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds warned that the government risked “a terrible injustice” if the deadline was not pushed back by three months.
“There could not be a more powerful warning of what happens when innocent people are deprived of the right to be here than the Windrush scandal.
“The government has not done enough to prevent people falling through the cracks. Surely, to avoid the risk of terrible injustice, it must extend the deadline and use the additional time to ensure all those who are eligible have signed up,” he added.
Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central and former shadow Brexit minister, will use an Urgent Question this afternoon to pressure the Home Office into extending the deadline to September.
“It’s vital that ministers act now before it’s too late, and they preside over a Windrush-style scandal,” the Sheffield Central MP said this morning.
Some experts believe “more than 100,000 people” will miss the deadline, reports the BBC, and each will “technically become an illegal immigrant overnight”. Migration experts and charities are particularly worried about children of EU citizens, children in the care system, elderly EU citizens and people in vulnerable groups.
But the Home Office has said it will take a “practical and compassionate approach” to those who miss the application window, provided they have reasonable grounds to have done so. This will apply “particularly where there may be vulnerabilities or obvious reasonable grounds such as children whose parents may not have applied for them”, said Immigration Minister Kevin Foster.
“But if you’ve got any concerns on your position on 1 July then our position is simple: don’t delay, apply today,” he added.
The minister also promised that everyone who applied by the 30 June deadline but has not had a decision by then will have their rights legally protected, and will be issued with a certificate to prove they have applied while officials process their paperwork.