Hundreds of thousands of EU nationals and their family members are still waiting for an outcome on their settled status outcomes 10 weeks after the scheme was due to end, new figures show.
European citizens are being forced to delay plans to move to the UK to be with their loved ones, and are facing barriers to employment, due to long delays in the processing of EU settlement applications.
Following Brexit, EEA nationals and their family members who wished to stay in Britain have had to apply to the EU settlement scheme, which opened in March 2019, by 30 June 2021 or face becoming undocumented and therefore unable to work, rent and access other services.
New government data published on Thursday reveals 450,600 applicants are yet to receive a decision - one in 14 applications made since the scheme opened - the majority of whom applied before the deadline.
Shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous said it was “deeply concerning” that the government “had not put in sufficient support” to process the applications.
“People are being denied their rights and their lives are being put on hold as a result of these delays. The government must act swiftly to eliminate the backlog,” he told The Independent .
The Home Office claims that anyone who applied for the scheme by the 30 June deadline will “have their rights protected” until their application is decided.
But organisations supporting EU nationals say some people have been dismissed or rejected from employment because their applications were pending.
On applying to the scheme, applicants are supposed to receive a “certificate of application” (CoA) while they wait for a decision, which they can use as evidence of their status – but experts say it is sometimes taking months for people to receive this.
Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, chief executive of the Work Rights Centre, said She was “deeply worried” by the fact that so many people were still awaiting an outcome, warning that “everyone stuck in the backlog risks being disadvantaged in employment”.
“We have already heard from several EU nationals who have been dismissed or rejected from employment because their applications were pending, and their employers struggled to verify their status,” she said.
“Not everyone is issued a CoA. Some people just got their confirmation via a letter or email; and in some cases no confirmation at all. We had a case like this in July, which resulted in the worker being dismissed.
“These people have lost their income, and have gone through an incredibly stressful time. Given the size of the backlog, I fear that they are just the tip of the iceberg.”
The delays are also forcing EU nationals who do not yet live in the UK to delay plans to move closer to their loved ones, as they are not permitted to move to Britain until they have their status confirmed.
German national Natalie Schuetz, 38, who has lived in the UK for 12 years, said she felt “mentally exhausted” after her mother’s plans to move to the UK to be closer to her had to be put on hold due to delays in the processing of her EU settlement application.
The marketing manager applied to the scheme on behalf of her mother, Angelica Schuetz, 65, who currently lives in Berlin, on 29 June after they decided that it would be best for her to move to the UK so that she could care for her as she gets older.
They had hoped to receive a decision within six weeks to then begin the process of selling her mother’s property, but they are still waiting – and her mother is yet to be issued with even a CoA to prove that she has applied.
“It’s impossible to make any plans. There’s no point in her putting her property on the market for potentially no reason. She doesn’t want to be left homeless. The not knowing is putting pressure on both of us – we’re in complete limbo,” she told The Independent.
“When I applied for settled status back in 2019 it took three and a half hours to get a decision. I understand that it might be taking a bit longer because we left it quite late and they’ve got the backlog, but to not even have received the CoA is a worry.”
Experts say that at the current rate of processing, it will take around 14 months for the Home Office to get through the backlog.
Luke Piper, head of policy at the3million, said the large number of people in the backlog could be put down to the Home Office’s refusal to extend the deadline on the basis that the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult for people to obtain the relevant documents to apply.
“Other countries extended the deadline to account for these problems - the UK didn’t. We are now seeing the consequences of this as incomplete applications take longer to decide. This is reflected in the data with a high backlog and slow decision rate,” he said.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “We continue to work as quickly as possible to conclude applications, as well as supporting people with their late applications.
“Our message remains clear. The Home Office is looking for reasons to grant status rather than refuse. I would encourage anyone eligible who is yet to apply to get in touch and join the millions who have already secured their rights.”