The Government will not be extending the deadline for the EU settlement scheme, an immigration minister has said.
Any extension would lead to more uncertainty and was not a “solution”, according to Kevin Foster, despite calls from campaigners to push back the date amid the coronavirus pandemic.
EU citizens and their families have been asked to apply to the Home Office scheme by June 30, in order to continue living and working in the UK now the Brexit transition period and freedom of movement has ended.
Speaking to reporters a week before the cut-off for applications, Mr Foster said: “The EUSS has been open publicly since March 2019. We believe this has given people plenty of time to apply.
“The sheer fact there have been over 5.6 million applications by the end of last month is testament to this.
“I want to be clear – we will not be extending the deadline. Put simply, extending the deadline is not a solution in itself to reaching those people who have not yet applied and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating even more uncertainty.”
His comments came after Downing Street said it was trying to identify tens of thousands of Europeans living in the UK who are yet to apply for the post-Brexit residency scheme.
This followed concerns that many EU citizens – as well as nationals of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – could have their benefits cut off if they miss the deadline.
Number 10 insisted only a “small minority” are yet to come forward but initial official estimates on the number of anticipated applications have already been exceeded.
Ultimately it is not known how many people who are eligible to apply are living in the UK, or how many could remain in the country undocumented.
Around 400,000 applications are still waiting to be processed and the Home Office is receiving between 10,000 and 12,000 applications a day.
Mr Foster said he was “concerned” over claims that outstanding cases were facing a legal limbo or facing a cliff edge – dismissing them as “just untrue”.
The Government has pledged that anyone who applies by the deadline will have their existing rights protected, subject to the decision and any appeal.
Those who have made a valid submission will have access to a certificate of application while they await their decision, Mr Foster said.
It typically takes around five working days for complete applications to be processed, but it can take longer than a month if more information is needed.
The Home Office has not committed to completing all applications by June 30 and is allowing people to make a late application if they meet “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline.
– Where a parent, guardian or council has failed to apply on behalf of a child.
– Where a person has a serious medical condition preventing them from applying in time.
– If someone is a victim of modern slavery, is in an abusive relationship, is vulnerable or lacks the ability to make the digital application.
– Other compelling or compassionate reasons, including in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Late applications can take place years afterwards. For example, if a child discovered later in life that they are undocumented.
Addressing claims EU citizens could be removed or have their benefits taken away on July 1, Mr Foster said: “We are taking a proportionate and pragmatic approach” and insisted no action would be taken against anyone who has an outstanding application.
He revealed immigration enforcement officers will be given powers to issue a 28-day notice to anyone they discover who may be eligible for the scheme but cannot prove their immigration status. This will tell them to take urgent action to establish their lawful status by applying to the scheme.
These may be handed out, for example, to workers discovered during immigrations raids on businesses.
Questions still remain over whether those whose applications are rejected, or fail to apply despite requests to do so, would then face removal from the country or be asked to leave voluntarily.
Care groups have warned that a substantial number of social care workers and their employers are not fully aware of the scheme.
They say a lack of knowledge about what their obligations and requirements are is “caused primarily by poor engagement and communication” from the Home Office.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, they “respectfully urge” the Government to reconsider its position “even at this late stage”.
They write: “This lack of knowledge of the repercussions of not being part of the scheme is that many care workers are either feeling they have no choice but to leave the UK, leave the care profession or alternatively move to the NHS.
“For a sector that already has over 120,000 vacancies this will have a major impact on the sustainability of social care service provision across the UK.”
The groups include the Care Workers Charity, Care England and the National Care Association.
A Government spokeswoman said it is working with employers to ensure the workforce is large enough to meet increasing demands, adding: “We have been clear we want international staff already working in the UK to stay and feel welcomed and encouraged to do so, and we’ve worked hard to promote the EU settlement scheme across the sector over the last two and a half years.”