Home Office Statistics released last Thursday show applications for EU settled status (EUSS) are down. The implications of this are potentially serious for EU nationals living in the UK.
On 8 December, Boris Johnson remarked that ‘’EU migrants have been able to treat the UK as if it’s part of their own country’’ for too long, and he pledged to get much stricter on immigration after Brexit.
This means that those who have been legally resident in this country could potentially lose their status after the EUSS application deadline has passed.
In a previous blog post we reported that the specialist organisations we had worked with for the purposes of our research on EUSS in the period August-October had all reported a growing increase in the numbers of people presenting for support to complete their applications.
Each of the organisations and professionals we spoke to in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, London, Birmingham and Bedford had said that they had seen a spike in demand in August for EUSS applications (Table 1).
That spike had continued, and in fact the numbers were growing each month – as is reflected in the official Home Office reported statistics (Fig 1).
Some attributed this growth to the increasing Brexit updates in the media at that time and to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement that free movement could end on 31 October 2019 (the second ‘Brexit’ day).
Following on from this flurry of applications, our research in the East of England now shows that numbers of applications significantly decreased after 31 October, when the Brexit deadline was pushed back, and a general election was announced (Table 1).
This drop in applications is reflected in the national statistics published last Thursday (Fig 1).
To date (as of January 2020), just over 2.45 million people have had received decisions under the EUSS scheme (from 2.7million submitted applications), with 58% receiving settled status decisions and 41% pre-settled status.
The government anticipates that 3.64 million people will apply for EUSS, but as mentioned previously, this is thought to be an underestimate.
The actual number, including family members of EU nationals, is simply unknown.
The timescale in which individuals can apply for EUSS, the growing backlog of applicants awaiting decisions (306,000 in January 2020) and the known repercussions for failure to apply within the deadline means that this decrease in numbers is significant.
The Home Office has provided funding to support vulnerable EU Citizens to apply for EUSS and has already committed £9 million to 57 organisations around the country to do so.
However, this funding runs only until March 2020 – whereas the deadline for EUSS applications is currently June 2021 (or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal).
We have already highlighted how many of those most vulnerable could be exploited by advice sharks and others, and duped into paying privately for unqualified people to help them complete their EUSS application.
Even with the spike in demand for services in August-October 2019, advice centres and support services are worried that a significant portion of the community that they work with are simply unaware that they need to apply for settled status, or even what settled status is.
We have also highlighted previously the practical issues rural farmworkers (for example) will face in terms of access to the internet or Wifi, access to printed bank statements of the previous six years (not just the five years required to establish settled status), smart phones, language skills, transport links, and other practical obstacles to undertaking an application.
And all that is for those who are aware of the EUSS scheme in the first place.
We have been told that general awareness of the scheme is low amongst those who are most isolated and vulnerable in their communities.
Before the New Year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said “the government are sleepwalking into another Windrush scandal and we can’t allow that to happen”.
In order to avoid this, advice agencies suggest that further funding after March 2020 and awareness campaigns about the EUSS scheme (potentially in a multi-lingual format) are needed at this juncture as we enter the last eighteen months of the window in which to apply.
By Professor Catherine Barnard, senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, Fiona Costello and Sarah Fraser Butlin, University of Cambridge.