The Home Office is receiving more than 10,000 new EU settlement applications per day with just a week to go before the scheme’s deadline, sparking concern that many will be left without status.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said on Tuesday that daily applications stand at between 10,000 and 12,000, up from around 6,000 in May – with the backlog currently around 400,000. Around 5.6 million people have applied overall since the scheme opened in March 2019.
Campaigners say the surge indicates that many people are only just discovering they need to apply, and that there will be many more who do not apply by the deadline.
Following Brexit, EU and EEA nationals and their family members who wish to stay in Britain must apply to the EU settlement scheme by 30 June or they will automatically become undocumented, leaving them unable to access state support and liable for deportation.
Mr Foster said that anyone who applies for the scheme by the 30 June deadline will “have their rights protected” until their application is decided. He said those who have “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline will be able to make a late application.
But legal experts warned that people who have not applied may fall victim to the hostile environment – a set of government policies intended to block those without immigration status from basic services such as housing, employment and the NHS.
It emerged on Monday that tens of thousands of European benefit claimants in the UK were yet to apply for EU settlement, with government estimates from the start of this month, seen by The Times, putting the figure at around 130,000 - one in six.
The Law Society warned on Tuesday that vulnerable EU citizens would be “stripped of essential rights” with an “unprecedented number” likely to become destitute as a result of not applying for settled status by 30 June.
Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society, said: “Anyone who does not apply by the deadline will become unlawfully resident in the UK overnight. They will be at risk of losing their jobs, bank accounts, tenancies, access to the NHS and welfare benefits.”
Mr Foster said on Tuesday that when an EU or EEA national who had not applied under the scheme attempted to obtain new employment or rent a property in England, the onus would be on the employer or landlord to “encourage them to apply as soon as possible”.
However, the Home Office has not explained how it will make sure landlords and employers follow these instructions and do not simply refuse housing or employment.
Luke Piper, head of policy at campaigning group the3million, told The Independent: “The Home Office are putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of landlords and employers with no time to prepare them. It has not set out how they will ensure landlords and employers follow these instructions and monitor that they will not discriminate.”
The immigration minister also announced that from 1 July, a “new procedural step” would be introduced in immigration enforcement activity that would give any EEA national who may be eligible to submit a late EU settlement application 28 days to do so.
Describing it as an “EU settlement notice”, he said they would be given helpline details and advice on how to apply. It is unclear what will happen to anyone who subsequently does not apply within 28 days.
A Home Office spokesperson said it was working closely with charities, local authorities and local government associations to help vulnerable groups apply, citing £22m in funding it has provided to a network of 72 organisations across the UK to help with this work.
“Rightly, our focus is on encouraging applications before the 30 June deadline, but we have published non-exhaustive guidance on reasonable grounds for late applications, including where a parent, guardian or local authority failed to apply on behalf of a child,” they added.