Tens of thousands of European Union citizens residing in the UK who have missed the fast-approaching deadline to apply for post-Brexit settled status risk serious consequences, according to the Home Office.
Those found by UK Government Immigration Enforcement agents to be lacking the correct documentation after 30 June, allowing them to continue living and working in the country after the end of the Brexit transition period, will be given 28 days to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster, in an online press briefing Tuesday, emphasised that the government would “not be extending the deadline”.
“Put simply, extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied, and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating more uncertainties,” said Foster, adding:
“From 1 July, Immigration Enforcement will introduce a new procedural step for those believed to be EEA citizens or relevant family members who may be eligible for EUSS status on the basis they were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, but failed to apply by 30 June 2021.”
Accordingly, efforts are being redoubled by the Home Office to reach out to those people who might not be aware of the rule change.
Kevin Foster acknowledged a huge surge in applications, now running at 10,000 to 12,000 a day, with a backlog of around 400,000 applications currently waiting to be processed. Altogether, the Home Office has had 5.6 mln settled status applications from EU citizens.
Foster sought to dismiss fears that EU citizens who had failed to apply by the deadline would see their social welfare benefits removed from 1 July. The Home Office has said it will allow people indefinite time to complete an application for settled status if they are able to provide a reasonable excuse for delay.
These include a serious medical condition, and compelling reasons linked to the coronavirus pandemic. Kevin Foster said that the Home Office was “taking a proportionate and pragmatic approach” and ruled out action being taken against anyone who has an outstanding application.
To accommodate those who will not have a decision for months, the government will issue a “certificate of application” which all applicants can “rely on as proof to access their right to work or rent”, Foster added.
Addressing fears of deportation, in a briefing to reporters on Tuesday the Home Office vowed to work with people to discover their reasons for not applying rather than deporting them.
Maike Bohn, co-founder of the EU citizens' campaign group, the3million, was cited by the outlet as saying:
"It's good that people can apply late, but the crux is they're unlawful as they haven't put an application in. Those eligible and not applying on time become unlawful and risk losing work, housing, access to free health care and so much more."
There has not yet been any clarification as to whether those whose applications are rejected, or who fail to apply after pressure to do so, would subsequently face removal deportation.
The new rules were brought in as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU. The EU Settlement Scheme is open to an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen (EEA includes the EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and their family to apply to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.
One may also apply if an individual is a family member of an eligible person of Northern Ireland.
If successful, a person is granted either settled or pre-settled status.
An individual may apply for “Settled status” if they can prove that they had been in the country continuously for five years or more before 31 December 2020. This status has been granted to 2.75 million people as of 31 May.
“Pre-settled status” is granted to those individuals who have been in the UK for less than five years by the end of 2020. They can apply for settled status in the future.
The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. The latter provided for an extension of all EU law until 31 December 2020. A grace period of six additional months was allowed for European citizens and their family members to protect their lawful UK residence status via the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) after EU free movement law in the UK ended with Brexit.