The United Kingdom on Thursday (16 January) defended its much-criticised scheme to guarantee the rights of EU nationals after Brexit, as the country’s Home Office announced that a vast majority have already applied for settled status.
The total number of applications for the UK’s EU settled status scheme received by the end of 2019 was more than 2.75 million, according to Home Office statistics published on Thursday.
More than 160,000 applications were made in December alone. The official government estimate puts the number of EU nationals in the UK at around 3.5 million, although civil society organisations believe that the true number is significantly higher.
Of these, 58% of applicants have already been given settled status, which gives them indefinite leave to remain in the UK. But 41% have received the more precarious ‘pre-settled’ status, which only grants five years residency, after which they will have to apply again.
Just over 300,000 applications are yet to be concluded by the Home Office, according to the statistics.
In an article for The Times today, immigration minister Brandon Lewis defended the settlement scheme, which he described as generous.
“We’re going the extra mile for EU citizens here. It’s time Brits in Europe were given as good a deal,” he said.
Last October, Lewis warned that EU nationals risked forced deportation if they did not apply under the scheme.
The deadline for applying for settled status is June 2021 if the UK agrees a post-Brexit trade and political deal with the EU before the end of 2020. However, in a no-deal scenario the deadline will mirror the post-Brexit transition period and end in December 2020, potentially leaving many EU nationals in a precarious situation.
On Wednesday, MEPs expressed ‘grave concern’ about the scheme and called for the UK government to provide EU nationals with “a physical document as proof of their right to reside in the UK after the end of the transition period”.
In a resolution backed by a heavy majority, EU lawmakers called on the UK and EU27 to adopt a “declaratory” system that would remove the risk of forced deportation.
MEPs also warned that the lack of a physical document as proof of residency increased the risk of discrimination against EU27 nationals by prospective employers or landlords “who may want to avoid the extra administrative burden of online verification or erroneously fear they might place themselves in an unlawful situation”.
The Home Office says that EU nationals will continue to be eligible to access social housing and benefits on the same terms as now.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]