As the press reported last week, the Home Office has announced that it has received 3.4 million applications from people seeking to stay in the United Kingdom after Brexit under the EU Settled Status Scheme. The government estimates that the number of EEA and Swiss citizens eligible to remain in the United Kingdom lies between 3.4 million and 3.8 million. Are they thinking ‘job done’?
The Migration Observatory report about the EU settlement scheme clearly sets out the flaws with the way the government is producing data and counting applications made. The Home Office has a very crude system of just counting every application. However, there are very basic problems:
- It is not known how many people are eligible to apply and how many still live in the United Kingdom.
- One person may have applied for pre-settled status and settled status – this counts as two applications.
- There are people who have applied to the scheme but have left the United Kingdom.
What we do know is that the Home Office still has a backlog of 320,000 applications and that inevitably, the applicants who have not yet applied are likely to be the more difficult cases including, for example the citizens in children’s homes, victims of domestic abuse, third country national family members of EU citizens and people who are not able to provide the documentation required by the Home Office. We also know that 300 applications were refused by the Home Office in March 2020.
There is now of course the added problem of Covid-19 with a slow down in the processing of applications at the Home Office due to reduced staffing levels. The telephone line set up to assist applicants with the EU Settlement Scheme is not functioning as the Home Office was not able to provide a safe working environment for its case workers. This means that the only way to get in touch with the EU Settlement Scheme staff is by email. The delays in response time are significant and standard responses often appear to be being sent out without any specific information about individual cases.
Although it is still possible for EU citizens with passports which are chipped to make applications, non-EEA family members are unable to submit applications as the Home Office is currently not accepting passports. It is therefore not possible to provide identity documents either to the Home Office or to Sopra Steria, the company to which the Home Office has outsourced the initial processing of applications.
There are also some more complex applications which have to be completed on a paper form. The procedure is that the form has to be requested from the Home Office. Previously an applicant was required to phone in and outline their case before a paper form was sent out, which is now not possible. Paper forms can still be requested by email and are then sent to the applicant. The Home Office has reassured us that these applications are still being dealt with, although we know from experience that the delays before the Covid-19 lockdown were significant, and they are only likely to increase now. These applications would normally be sent back to the Home Office with original documentation but we have been informed by a senior case worker at the Home Office that only copies should be sent to the Home Office.
Given the Covid-19 pandemic, further delays seem inevitable. There are also likely to be some difficulties ensuring that biometrics are captured as required for the Home Office going forward. One thing that has been stated categorically, is that the EU Settlement Scheme will not be extended beyond June 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you require assistance in connection with the EU Settlement Scheme or any other EU immigration matter, please contact us on 020 7401 6887 or firstname.lastname@example.org.