Almost 500,000 EU citizens left ‘in limbo’ awaiting decision over right to stay in UK

People awaiting decisions having problems applying for jobs and moving house, say campaigners

Adam Forrest
Thursday 12 August 2021 16:48
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Almost half a million European citizens living in the UK are still awaiting a decision over their status six weeks on from the June deadline for the settlement scheme.

European nationals and their families were asked to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June so they could carry on living and working in Britain after Brexit.

But 483,200 applications to the scheme were still pending in July, according to the latest Home Office data.

Campaigners said the government’s failure to clear the huge backlog had left a large number of people “in limbo” and facing a series of practical difficulties proving their legal status in the UK.

The 3million group, which advocates for the rights of EU citizens, said people waiting on a decision were having problems in applying for jobs, moving house and – in some cases – getting in and out of the country.

Luke Piper, the group’s head of policy, said: “The backlog remains incredibly high, and it’s worrying that the rate of decision making by the Home Office appears static.”

He added: “While people are left in this limbo situation they are experiencing very real problems with proving their status in the UK.”

Bhavneeta Limbachia, an immigration lawyer at Russell-Cooke solicitors, criticised delays in providing EU citizens with a “certificate of application” – the document which helps people show they still have the right to live and work in the UK while waiting on a decision.

“This bottleneck in the system is failing EU nationals, especially when employment has had to be temporarily suspended,” she told the BBC.

“The delay is also prejudicial to landlords and employers, who are left in a predicament when assessing whether an applicant is legally permitted to continue renting or working in the UK.”

The Independent has previously spoken to EU nationals who have been held up in airports since Brexit because they have been unable to provide physical proof of their residency in the UK.

Just over 58,000 European nationals applied late for settled status in the month after the deadline passed, the latest Home Office figures also show.

The government has said there is no cut-off point for submitting late applications, and insisted that those who apply late will have their existing rights protected, pending later decisions and appeals.

But campaigners have warned that the government decision to cut off benefits to European nationals who have not applied to the scheme – many of whom remain unaware of the need to apply for settled status – could soon push the most vulnerable into destitution.

The Independent revealed earlier this week that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will next month start the process of cutting benefits to all those who have not applied for settled status.

An internal DWP report reveals that final warning letters will be sent out in September to EU benefit claimants. The group will then be given one month to sign up late to the settlement scheme before their benefit payments are cut.

More than 6 million applications were submitted between the launch of the scheme in March 2019 and the closing date this summer.

More than 2.8 million of those were granted settled status. A further 2.3 million were granted pre-settled status, meaning they need to reapply after living in the country for five years to gain permanent residence.

It is not known how many people in the UK are eligible for the settlement scheme but could remain in the country undocumented. Those who do not apply have been warned they could face enforcement action.

Campaigners have previously called for the law to be changed to automatically protect the rights of EU citizens and their families continuing to live in the UK so they do not face discrimination or lose access to services such as healthcare.

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