EU citizens protesting for their rights back in 2017 – when Boris Johnson said "your rights will be protected whatever happens" (Image: AFP/Getty Images)
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A huge surge of EU citizens have applied to stay in the UK at the last minute as tens of thousands battled a midnight deadline.
It’s understood as many as 50,000 applied for settled status yesterday – some of whom were still waiting in a 40-minute online queue after midnight.
That is up to five times the usual 10,000 to 12,000 applications per day.
Home Office officials were forced to extend the long-planned deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme to 9am today.
But anyone who quit the process overnight in frustration, and failed to complete their application by 9am, will now be viewed as a late applicant.
That will mean their claim could be rejected if they do not show “reasonable grounds” for having failed the June 30 deadline.
100,000 EU nationals left waiting 3 months for settled status as deadline looms
EU citizens to be handed 28-day ultimatum to keep their rights to stay in UK
Officials insisted a flexible approach will be taken to late applications, and those who submit an application will not lose any rights until it has been considered.
Postal applications will still be accepted if they arrive in the coming days, after which applications will have to prove they sent their form before the cut-off.
But campaigners fear hard-to-reach EU citizens could end up losing their rights to live, work, access the NHS or claim benefits in the UK.
From today, EU citizens with pre-settled or settled status will no longer be able to rely on their passport or ID card for proof they can live and work in the UK.
Instead they must log in to view their status online and generate a “share code” to show landlords or employers – who face hefty fines for hiring someone without the right status.
Those who missed the deadline and are identified by Immigration Enforcement will now start receiving 28-day ultimatums to file a late application – or lose their rights.
Two men are released from the back of an Immigration Enforcement van (file photo)
The cut-off comes despite Boris Johnson claiming in 2016 that EU citizens would “automatically” be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK after Brexit.
The future Prime Minister told EU citizens in 2017: “You are loved, you are welcome, your rights will be protected whatever happens”.
Former Europhile Tory MP Dominic Grieve warned this week that EU citizens could face an “injustice similar to Windrush”.
The spokesman for European Movement UK added: “The Government should think again about this process.”
EU citizens and their families shared emotional stories on social media.
One, Michael Goulden, shared a photo of his 83-year-old mother who moved from Germany to England in 1962, “adores the Queen” and “loves this country”.
He said his mother became “increasingly upset" and claimed Brexit voters “should be utterly ashamed”, writing on Twitter : “Today, I had to fill out an application to apply for her to have settled status. I was reluctant but realised that we could risk her becoming an 'illegal immigrant'.
“A Britain that was once tolerant, generous and welcoming has now morphed into a tinpot, cruel, xenophobic 3rd rate country under the monstrous government we now have.”
Ministers last week refused to extend the June 30 deadline, insisting Britain’s approach was more generous than several EU countries where Brits live.
EU citizens had long feared the more vulnerable or hard-to-reach could lose their rights
(Image: OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/REX)
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “Extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied.
“We would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again.”
But officials do not know exactly how many EU citizens there are in the UK, after underestimating the number by around a million before Brexit.
Downing Street insisted only a "small minority" were yet to come forward, but the exact number is not known.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU Settlement Scheme has been an overwhelming success, there have already been more than 5 million grants of status.
“EU citizens who have submitted a valid application by 30 June will have their rights protected in law and will be issued with a certificate of application, which can be presented to employers and landlords and verified by our checking service.
“As we approached the deadline we saw a surge in applications. To ensure everyone who was waiting could make an in-time application we will be accepting all applications submitted online overnight on 30 June/1 July, and paper applications posted before the deadline.”