Tens of thousands of EU nationals in UK could become undocumented after Brexit in crisis 'worse than Windrush'

Home Office demand for EU citizens to apply for settled status will ‘inevitably’ leave swathes of vulnerable people unable to prove right to be in Britain in years to come, warn campaigners

Home Office: EU citizens and their families will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after Brexit

Tens of thousands of EU nationals living in Britain could become undocumented migrants after Brexit in a crisis bigger than the Windrush scandal, campaigners have warned.

It is claimed the Home Office’s system of requiring all EU citizens to apply for settled status ahead of Britain’s departure from the bloc could leave swathes of vulnerable people unable to prove their right to be in the country in years to come.

The EU Settlement Scheme, which opens today (21 January), is designed by the government to grant post-Brexit residency to EU citizens and their family members, who will have until 30 June 2021 to apply.

It will require applicants to prove their identity by using a mobile app which is part of an integrated online application process, at a cost of £65 for adults and £32.50 for children under 16.

But campaigners said that while the scheme may work for those who are aware of it, efforts to inform harder-to-reach people such as the elderly, those who don’t speak English and those who are being exploited, were “completely inadequate”.

And further criticism was levelled at the government over an app designed to process applications that can only be used on Android smartphones and tablets – cutting out Apple’s popular iOS devices. Other registration methods are available.

Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “They say they are doing advertising, that they are doing outreach and free events for people – but it’s completely inadequate for the situation at hand.

“If politicians meant it when they said EU nationals could stay, they would have made settled status a legal guarantee and said everyone who is currently a resident in the UK as an EU national has a permanent right to remain.”

Mr Patel accused ministers of using the scheme as a way to appear to “take back control” and remove a subset of people who they want to deport, but to the detriment of vulnerable individuals who will not be aware of it, or not have the means to apply.

“Ministers want it to be a political taking back control. They do not want to be seen to be granting settled status to people who are ‘undesirable’,” he said.

“But it means that we’ve got as a matter of absolute certainty at least tens of thousands of people who will end up being here illegally afterwards, just because they didn’t apply for the status – and that is going to be a problem.”

Critics have also warned that thousands of people could be left without legal status if applications are not processed quickly and efficiently.

Jill Rutter, think tank British Future’s strategy director, said: “The Home Office must invest in getting the EU settlement scheme right from the start.

“Failure to do so could cause massive problems in years to come, on a far bigger scale than the Windrush scandal.”

Charities said that the fee to register, although “not huge”, would also deter some people from applying, and criticised the Home Office for refusing to introduce a fee waiver for those who may not be able to afford it.

In November, the government came under fire after immigration minister Caroline Nokes admitted there were no plans to waive fees for European trafficking survivors in the UK to secure their status – which modern slavery campaigners said risked pushing them back into exploitation.

A petition calling on the Home Secretary Sajid Javid to axe the fee has already attracted 6,000 signatures. Chief executive of charity More United, Bess Mayhew, said: "Asking EU citizens who have lived here for years to pay to stay in their homes isn’t right.

"These people are our friends, family and colleagues who deserve to be treated better. We hope there is still time for the Home Secretary to reconsider."

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey said: “No one seriously believes that the Home Office will be able to grant settled status to everyone who’s eligible within two years. Thousands will be left effectively undocumented and subject to Theresa May’s hostile environment.”

Those who have lived continuously in the UK for five years can apply for settled status under the scheme, meaning they are free to go on living and working in the UK indefinitely.

People who do not have five years’ residence can seek to stay until they have, at which point they can apply for settled status.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Applicants are asked to prove their identity, declare any criminal convictions and upload a facial photograph. Officials then check employment and benefits data to confirm proof of residence, while all applications are run through UK criminality and security databases.

It is estimated that the total number of applications could run to more than 3.5 million.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU Settlement Scheme will ensure all EU citizens living in the UK will have a status granted by the Home Office which they can use to demonstrate their right to work, housing and benefits.

“It will be simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need. They will only need to complete three key steps – prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK and declare any criminal convictions.

“We have completed two successful private testing phases with tens of thousands of applications and customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

“We are working in partnership with vulnerable group representatives, local authorities and other experts to make sure we reach everyone.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in