The agency responsible for safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom has urged the Home Office to ensure that citizens who have applied late to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) must have their rights upheld by UK public bodies.
The move comes amid fears that thousands of Europeans who have been unable to apply or are still waiting for confirmation on their application risk being deported or being denied rights to social housing or other state benefits.
“Applying to the EUSS can be unsettling for many people, especially if they are applying late which is why we are calling on the Home Office to take further steps to make it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement provides rights for late applicants,” Dr Kathryn Chamberlain, chief executive of the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA), said in a statement on Monday (27 September).
“This is an important point as it will clarify once and for all the rights that EU and EEA EFTA citizens should expect to have as well as make it clear to public bodies about the rights they should be upholding,” she added.
Under the Withdrawal Agreement that saw the UK leave the EU last year, citizens from the 27 EU countries as well as the three EEA EFTA countries have their rights to live in the UK protected so they can live and work as they did before Brexit.
More than 5.5 million people had applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline on 30 June, according to the Home Office’s estimates, of which more than 90% of applications have been approved for either ‘settled’ or ‘pre–settled’ status. Both give EU citizens the same rights to benefits and services as UK nationals.
However, the Home Office is still tackling a backlog of applications which could take months to clear. Data published earlier this month suggest that the backlog is now down to 450,000 cases and that the Home Office is processing around 100, 000 per month.
Meanwhile, the lack of data about precisely how many EU nationals are living in the UK means that there could be hundreds of thousands of people who have not applied.
While EU nationals residing in the UK who have not yet applied have technically lost their lawful immigration status, the UK government has said that late applications can be made if there are reasonable grounds and that the Home Office will look favourably to grant settled status where it can.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]