Today marks the deadline for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens to apply for permission to carry on living in the UK via the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.
At Prime Minister’s Questions today the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, called for the deadline to be scrapped, saying: “We know there are hundreds of thousands of unprocessed cases. It is simply unacceptable, Mr Speaker, that their rights will be diminished by the failures of this government.”
He added: “Overnight, thousands of our friends and neighbours could become illegal immigrants. They are living in fear for their jobs, their families and their livelihoods.”
But the UK government has said that people who have not had their applications processed yet will have their rights protected while they are waiting for a decision.
Home office figures show that the department had received 5.6 million applications for settled status by May 31.
Just over half the applicants (52 per cent) have been granted settled status – indefinite leave to remain living and working in Britain. Another 43 per cent have “pre-settled” status, where permission to stay is limited to five years.
Only 2 per cent of applications have been refused, according to the Home Office.
The department says that while it can take up to a month to process applications, most are turned around within five days.
What if you haven’t had a decision?
The government has said that everyone who applies before today’s deadline “will have their existing rights protected pending the outcome of their application”.
Applicants are automatically issued with a Certificate of Application.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said earlier this month: “From 1 July, they will be able to rely on their Certificate of Application as proof to access their right to work or rent, when verified by the relevant Home Office checking service.
“This means no-one will be unable to work due to their intime application to the EU Settlement Scheme not having being decided before the deadline for applications.”
What if you miss the deadline?
The Home Office says that even people who miss the deadline because they failed to apply will not automatically lose their access to benefits or be deported, although they will be at risk of enforcement.
After the deadline lapses tonight, EU citizens with no status who come into contact with the authorities will be given a written notice giving them an opportunity to apply, normally within 28 days. People have to give “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline.
A government source told FactCheck: “We will give a person every chance to apply to the EUSS. In line with the general approach under the EU Settlement Scheme, we continue to look to grant status, rather than look for reasons to refuse.”
After the 28 days’ grace period has lapsed, people who have not applied “may be liable for enforcement action and will not be eligible for work, benefits or services”, the source added.
But “whether such action is taken will be determined in accordance with immigration enforcement policy guidance relating to those in breach of immigration law and following a careful assessment of the individual’s circumstances”.
Deportation will not be automatic, the government stresses.
“The 28-day notice is not a notice that the individual is liable to be removed from the UK.
“An assessment will be made of any indicators of vulnerability that may prevent the individual from making an application to the EUSS.
“Where this may be the case, a record will be made to allow that to be taken into account in any future encounter and to forestall any move to cease access to services and benefits where an application is yet to be made.”
Have promises been broken?
Mr Blackford referred to a statement made by Boris Johnson in July 2019, when the Prime Minister promised that EU nations in Britain would “have the absolute certainty for the right to live and remain”.
As FactCheck reported at the time, some campaigners, including at least one Conservative MP, were confused by this, wrongly believing that the Prime Minister was going to heed calls to change the law to guarantee residency rights for EU citizens in Britain.
If we go back further to the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Mr Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove all put their name to a statement which promised that “EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK”.
Clearly, that never happened, as status is indefinite leave is not granted automatically. You have to apply for it through the settlement scheme.
[Update: two paragraphs were edited after publication. The government will write to people with no settlement status who come into contact with the authorities after the deadline. The Home Office says people who miss the deadline because they failed to apply will not automatically lose their access to benefits or be deported. The headline was also edited for clarity.]