The number of EU nationals and their family members applying to remain in the UK after Brexit has surged in the last month amid mounting fears of a no-deal scenario and concern surrounding their future rights.
Government figures show applications for the EU settlement scheme more than doubled from 131,300 in July to 299,000 in August, marking the highest number since the scheme was fully rolled out in April.
The Home Office said the total number of applications received to date (12 September) was more than 1.3 million, with around 200,000 people applying within the last 12 days alone.
As of 31 August, a total of 188,600 people, 14 per cent of those who have applied, were still waiting for an outcome on their applications.
The data also showed an increase in the proportion of applicants getting pre-settled status, which grants them five years’ residency in the UK before they have to re-apply, raising concerns people may have been wrongly denied permanent immigration status.
Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, said: “The worrying increase in grants of pre-settled status and the rapidly-expanding backlog of undecided cases are a time-bomb for the next government.
“It is not unreasonable to suspect that the growing backlog is hiding decisions that will tarnish the government’s ‘no refusal’ mantra. The government needs to engage with this worrying trend and tackle the underlying causes.”
Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the government was “using fear” against EU citizens.
He added: “Fear of losing their houses, their jobs, their right to live in the country that is their home. Those fears will become a reality for those most vulnerable EU citizens who will not have applied by December 2020, like children in care.
“We need automatic settled status for all EEA nationals and their family members, so no one needs to be afraid.”
It comes after the European Parliament warned the Home Office was making the “hostile environment” worse for EU citizens ahead of Britain’s departure from the bloc, according to a leaked draft resolution seen by The Independent.
The document showed the EU legislature was preparing to express its “grave concern” at the chaotic approach of Priti Patel’s department, as well as problems with the EU settlement scheme.
Responding to the latest figures, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “Boris Johnson is continuing in the rotten tradition of his predecessor by treating EU nationals as ‘bargaining chips’, refusing to provide guarantees of unchanged status and now subjecting them to elements of the Tory ‘hostile environment’ policy that led directly to the Windrush scandal.
“There is no reason for treating people this way, except to whip-up hostility to foreigners.”
Last month, the Advertising Standards Agency banned an advert for the scheme created by the Home Office, claiming that it was misleading because the department had falsely claimed that applicants only needed a passport or ID card to complete the application.
The Independent revealed earlier this month that around five thousand vulnerable EU national children in Britain face losing their rights after Brexit because the Home Office has been providing “woefully inadequate” support for them to apply for the scheme.
Minister of state for the Home Office Brandon Lewis said: “We’ve been crystal clear – EU citizens are our friends and neighbours, and we want them to stay in the UK. I am delighted that over 1.5 million people have already applied.
“We are looking for reasons to grant status and this week I visited our hard-working Settlement Resolution team in Liverpool to see first-hand how we are supporting EU citizens to protect their rights and get the status they need.”
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