12 Sep 2019

FactCheck Q&A: how many EU migrants have been given settled status?

The Home Office say it is “looking for reasons to grant status” to EU citizens here, but some people using the scheme says it’s difficult to prove you have been living in this country.

“We want them to stay”. That was the message from Home Office minister Brandon Lewis this week in response to criticism of the EU settlement scheme.

The government is asking EU nationals living in Britain to apply for leave to remain here after Brexit.

Mr Lewis said the Home Office is “looking for reasons to grant status” to EU citizens here, but some people using the scheme says it’s difficult to prove you have been living in this country.

There’s a lot of confusion about the settlement scheme, even in the corridors of power.

Yesterday the Brexit Secretary, Steve Barclay, incorrectly stated on Twitter that 1.4 million EU citizens living in Britain had already been awarded “settled status”. He later deleted the tweet.

How many EU citizens have really been given leave to remain in Britain, and why are some people angry about the settlement scheme?

The latest figures

The deadline for applying for settled status is 30 June 2021 if there is a withdrawal agreement, or 31 December 2020 if there’s no deal.

Experimental statistics out today show 1.3 million people had applied by 31 August this year, slightly less than the “more than 1.4 million” claimed by Brandon Lewis in an article published on 6 September, citing “our latest internal figures”. The difference could be accounted for by the dates.

The bit Steve Barclay got wrong was that these were the figures for applications, not for people who had been given settled status.

The latest stats show that 1.1 million people have had their case decided.

Most (62 per cent) were given full settled status, which is sometimes called “indefinite leave to remain” , although it comes with strings attached: people can lose their status if they live outside the UK for 5 years in a row.

Some 37 per cent were given pre-settled status, or “limited leave to remain”, which means they get to stay in Britain and can-reapply after five years of continuous residency. But they could lose their status if they live outside this country for two years.

So, a significant number of migrants are not getting the indefinite permission to stay in the UK that most enjoyed under the “free movement” principle of EU membership.

And the proportion of people given pre-settled rather than settled status has been rising in recent months, although it’s not clear why.

But, the proportion of people who didn’t get either status is low – 0.5 per cent over the life of the scheme so far. And this includes people who withdrew voluntarily.

Is the scheme working?

Some people obviously feel the scheme has failed them. Individuals who have been living in the UK for decades have complained that they cannot find the paperwork to prove five years’ continuous residency.

Claims like this are hard for us to FactCheck unless we have a lot of information about an individual case.

It’s fair to say that there are gaps in the design of the scheme, such as the fact that the app people are supposed to use to upload documents only works on Android phones (at time of writing).

Equally, the take-up of the settlement scheme and turnover rate of applications has been high so far, and the proportion of people not getting either kind of status is low.

Arguably, the real test for the scheme will be how many people fall through the net – something we many not find out until after Brexit.

What do campaigners want?

Some campaign groups are unhappy that EU citizens are being made to apply for a new immigration status at all.

What some want is an act of parliament guaranteeing the status of all eligible EU citizens. People would have to register to get proof of their immigration status, but the big difference is that people who fail to register would not be illegal.

The government says it doesn’t want this simpler registration system (sometimes called a “declaratory” system) because it doesn’t want to repeat mistakes that saw members of the Windrush generation lose their immigration status after decades in Britain.

Critics say the government is wrong and that is was the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy that created the Windrush scandal.

They say the new system will lead to even worse outcomes for people who inevitably slip through the net and fail to apply for settled status for whatever reason, because they will be living here illegally.

What did Leave campaigners promise before the referendum?

It’s fair to say that members of the Vote Leave campaign who now occupy senior roles in the government promised something rather different before the 2016 referendum.

Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove all signed a public pledge which said that “EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain.”

Clearly, that hasn’t happened. The leave to remain isn’t indefinite for everyone, and it’s doesn’t happen automatically – you have to go through the application process.

Vote Leave also floated a strange theory which said that an obscure piece of international law called the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties would automatically guarantee the free movement rights of Brits living in EU countries and EU migrants living here after Brexit, without any negotiations between countries.

Legal experts contacted by FactCheck called this “profoundly misleading” and the idea was quietly dropped after the referendum. But not before Boris Johnson appeared to endorse it in this tweet:

What have other EU member states offered British migrants?

Readers sometimes tell FactCheck that the EU has made a more generous offer to British citizens living in other countries, but this is too simplistic.

For a start, this isn’t something Brussels rules on: individual member states decided how generous an offer they make to their British residents.

All member states have made some kind of contingency plan to protect UK citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the details of each scheme are different.

Some countries don’t even require Brits to apply, while others – unlike the free UK scheme – have application schemes and charge hefty fees.