Home Office will not know how many EU nationals are left undocumented after UK leaves EU, report warns

Number of EU citizens who will be left without legal status after Brexit could be far higher than ministers think as official estimates exclude or undercount groups, says Migration Observatory

The government estimates that 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens are living in the UK, but the Migration Observatory report warns this is not a good guide to the numbers of people eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme
The government estimates that 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens are living in the UK, but the Migration Observatory report warns this is not a good guide to the numbers of people eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme

The number of EU nationals in Britain who will be left undocumented after Brexit could be far higher than the Home Office thinks, according to a report which warns that unless the department invests in new data it will be impossible to know how many people are set to lose their status.

The government estimates that 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens are living in the UK, but the Migration Observatory report warns this is not a good guide to the numbers of people eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme, and that the actual figure could be considerably higher.

Around three million EU citizens have so far been granted authority to remain in the UK under the settlement scheme, for which the deadline is currently set for June 2021, but will be pushed back if the post-Brexit transition period is extended.

The report notes that official estimates of the EU citizen population in the UK exclude or undercount several groups of people, including those in dormitories, care homes or caravan parks. It also points out that the Home Office figures would be inflated by an unknown number of people who applied for status but then emigrated from the UK.

It calls on the Home Office to develop data to measure directly the numbers and characteristics of people who have not secured status, such as by linking administrative data sources together.

The Home Office has already come under criticism from charities who say not enough has been done to ensure vulnerable groups, such as children in care, domestic abuse victims and elderly people, have the support they need to apply to the scheme.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory and author of the report, said: “The government has invested a lot of effort in making the EU settlement scheme easy to use, but with any scheme of this size it is inevitable that some people will fall through the cracks. It will be very hard to know to what extent this has happened, without a parallel investment in new data.

“For a host of reasons, it’s possible that the number of EU citizens granted status through the scheme could greatly exceed the current official estimate of 3.4 million but that wouldn’t necessarily mean the task is finished.

"Any discussion about whether to extend or drop the deadline next year will have to take place without a clear picture of how many people have not yet applied.”

SNP shadow Immigration Minister Stuart McDonald MP warned that without urgent action from the government, hundreds of thousands of EU nationals and family members risked losing their status overnight in July 2021, threatening an "even wider-reaching immigration scandal than Windrush".

“UK government plans to force EU nationals to apply to stay post-Brexit have been fundamentally flawed from the day the Tory government first proposed them," he said.

“This latest report confirms the Home Office can have no idea of what percentage of EU nationals have yet to apply for settled status, and provides a stark reminder that many people will lose their rights to remain in their home country because they’ve been denied the support they needed or misunderstood their own immigration status."

Mr McDonald called for a declaratory system, which would automatically grant EU nationals post-Brexit status: "This means that no-one loses their rights but still has the incentive to apply to the settlement scheme, so they have a document proving their rights. It’s time for the Tories to fix this before it’s too late.”

Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million, a campaign group representing EU nationals, urged the government to find solutions to ensure that EU citizen secures their status, warning that those who fail to do so face "dire consequences within the hostile environment".

"As this report is showing, the UK does not know how many people must apply, how many people have applied, and they also don’t know whether the people who have applied successfully have been granted the right status," she said.

"We fear that by the application deadline next year neither the Home Office nor organisations like the3million will know how many EU citizens will not have secured their rightful status."

The report also raises concern that the global Covid-19 pandemic has led to a reduction in outreach capacity to vulnerable EU citizens most likely to be among those who fail to apply to the scheme, and the disruption of official data collection on which EU citizen population estimates rely.

Tory MP admits EU settlement scheme sometimes 'doesn't work as well as we expect'

Ms Sumption added: “While the EU settlement scheme is in some respects less exposed to the coronavirus crisis than other parts of the immigration system that rely more heavily on face-to-face contact, COVID-19 nonetheless has important implications for the scheme. 

“That includes lower capacity for supporting vulnerable EU citizens, including those most likely to be poorly measured in official statistics. It also remains to be seen how much the quality of the data on EU citizens in the UK will suffer as a result of the pandemic.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “More than 3 million grants of status under the scheme have already been made and there is still more than a year left to apply until the deadline of 30 June 2021.

“We are working closely with employers, local authorities and charities to raise awareness of the EU settlement scheme and identify those who are eligible. A wide range of support has been available for applicants since the scheme opened, including throughout the coronavirus pandemic.”

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