The security minister, Brandon Lewis, has threatened EU citizens with deportation from the UK if they do not apply for settled status after Brexit.
Home Office figures show a million of the estimated 3 million EU citizens in the UK have yet to apply for settled status, which will allow them to stay in the UK.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Lewis said these people risked being deported if they failed to apply by the end of 2020. “If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply,” Lewis said.
Exclusive: Germans & other EU citizens can be liable to removal from UK if they don’t apply for #SettledStatus on time after #Brexit, Security Minister Brandon Lewis confirms @welt https://t.co/COapbB41u2— StefanieBolzen (@StefanieBolzen) October 10, 2019
Asked whether those who did not apply in the next 14 months would face deportation even if they fulfilled all legal conditions for a residence permit, Lewis said: “Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
Campaigners said the comments suggested the government was planning to renege on a promise to EU citizens.
The3million, a group representing EU citizens living in Britain, said it was the first time the government had confirmed what would happen to those who did not apply for settled status.
Because of Brexit, EU (excluding British and Irish citizens), EEA or Swiss citizens need to apply to the EU settlement scheme if they wish to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.
Applicants are given given either settled status or pre-settled status. The status granted depends on how long they have been living in the UK. The government states that people's rights will be different depending on which status they get.
Guidelines state applicants will usually get settled status if they’ve lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period. Pre-settled status will be granted to those who have not lived in the UK for five years, or cannot demonstrate that they meet this requirement.
The government states that both settled and pre-settled status confer the right to:
- Work in the UK.
- Use the NHS.
- Enrol in education or continue studying.
- Access benefits and pensions.
- Travel in and out of the UK.
There are some significant differences though. Those with settled status will be allowed to stay in the UK as long as they like, and can spend up to five years in a row outside the UK without losing their status.
Those with pre-settled status are allowed to stay in the UK for a further five years, which would allow them to apply to convert it into settled status.
The status granted also affects any children people might have. With settled status, any children born in the UK will automatically be British citizens. With pre-settled status, the child would be born with pre-settled status, unless it qualified for British citizenship directly through one of the parents.
The deadline for applying is 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Irish citizens, or those who already have indefinite leave to remain, do not need to apply.
Maike Bohn, a co-founder of the campaign, said: “We have pressed the government for years on what happens to those who do not have a status in 2021. Today, after much wait, it is confirmed that hundreds and thousands of people will be punished with the threat of removal from their home. This is no way to treat people, let alone what was promised.”
The3million said many EU citizens in the UK were unaware of the requirement to register for settled status, while others were refusing to, as a protest against Brexit.
Bohn said: “Those people who miss the tight deadline will face the full force of the hostile environment. That is the grim reality of the UK government’s position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase: ‘EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay.’”
The3million is calling for changes to the EU settlement scheme to guarantee rights to EU citizens even if they do not apply for settled status.
Lewis later tweeted that his remarks had been taken out of context.
My words are somewhat taken out of context. #EUcitizens have till at least Dec 2020 & there’s plenty of help available to apply. We’ve now had 2 million applications & we’ve always said we’ll allow time for those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) October 10, 2019
Until now Home Office briefings have consistently tried to stress that officials will do everything they can to grant EU nationals the right to remain, and steered away from focusing on what would happen to those who failed to apply on time.
One of the civil servants leading the settled status application scheme said: “This is about trying to grant the right. This is not about trying to trip people up … We’ve set this up from scratch. All this is here to try to say yes to European citizens, to try to give them their rights.”
The Home Office’s position has consistently been to stress that if someone has a good reason to explain why they failed to apply by the deadline then they will be reasonable. The Home Office indicated that if people persistently fail to apply, then they will have no lawful status in the UK.
Campaigners have asked for clarity on this point, noting that there was no clear explanation of what would be considered a “good reason” for failing to apply by the deadline.
There is concern from campaign groups such as The3million that there could be tens of thousands of EU nationals in the UK who will fail to apply in time; they are particularly concerned by what will happen to older and more vulnerable EU residents who may not be aware of the need to secure their rights after Brexit and who may struggle with the digital application process.
As well as encountering difficulties with the Home Office, people who do not secure settled status may encounter problems applying for work or renting property, because employers and landlords will need to check that they are living in the UK legally.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay.
“The EU settlement scheme is a free and easy way for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need.
“We have received 2m applications and are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply.
“We’ve always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they’ll be given a further opportunity to apply.”