Pro-EU demonstrators march towards Parliament Square in Central London (Image: REX/Shutterstock)
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Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens entitled to settle in the UK may miss the post-Brexit deadline to apply and be left in legal limbo.
Think tank UK In A Changing Europe has sounded the alarm over the June 30 cut-off for the Home Office's EU Settlement Scheme.
Its new report believes huge numbers of EU nationals will miss the key date, due to little public awareness and huge gaps in government data on immigration, and will "immediately and irreversibly lose their rights of residence" within days.
Catherine Barnard, deputy director of the think tank. said the scheme's 'digital by default' applications deterred many, while thousands of low paid workers in agriculture, the care sector and manufacturing may not even know about the deadline.
The scheme was set up so EU nationals who came to the UK when Britain was part of the bloc's freedom of movement policy can apply for ‘settled status’ or, if they have less than five years residence, ‘pre-settled status’ post-Brexit.
But those who failed to apply by the deadline, and who do not have a good reason for missing the cut-off, will have no legal immigration status.
The report says they will therefore "be considered ‘undocumented’ and become subject to the ‘hostile environment’ and the risk of removal".
"There will inevitably be a rush to apply in the final few days of the scheme, but some will not make it," the report says, adding that vulnerable people and those with more complex cases could be hardest hit.
DWP rule change this month could impact benefits, State Pension and free NHS care for some people
EU settlement scheme: 300,000 citizens in limbo as UK suffers applications backlog
Ms Barnard said: "On one level, the EUSS is a massive success in terms of providing a quick and efficient system which has reached huge numbers of people. But it is about to enter a phase that will require sensitive management where the government will need to show pragmatism and flexibility in dealing with difficult cases.
“The ultimate effectiveness of the scheme can only be judged when we know not just how many people successfully applied but how many of these hard to reach groups were left undocumented at the end of the process and how the government dealt with them.”
The report highlights that the scheme is perhaps the largest of its kind in the world and has been "hugely successful".
Ministers have repeatedly faced calls to extend the deadline given the chaos of the Covid pandemic.
The government has previously said it is the Home Office's intention to grant settled or pre-settle status to those that apply, but it remains unclear what will happen if the deadline is missed. Refusals to date have so far been low, at around 2%.
Recent Home Office figures suggested the applications, which is made up of those who have already applied, backlog stood at more than 300,000.