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Politics

Settled status deadline risks ‘Windrush-type tragedy’

Immigration experts and opposition MPs warned the settled status deadline, at midnight on June 30, could make EU citizens “illegal immigrants overnight”

The deadline for EU citizens to apply for settled status in the UK is an “unmitigated disaster”, according to immigration experts, as the government’s post-Brexit rules threaten to strip thousands of their rights. 

After midnight on June 30, people from the EU cannot make a claim for their right to stay and work in the country under the government’s settlement scheme. Those who do not apply, or have their applications turned down, could lose access to free healthcare through the NHS and the welfare system.

“The prime minister promised EU citizens “absolute certainty” of the right to live and remain in the UK [after Brexit],” said Paul Blomfield MP, Labour’s shadow brexit minister, who warned the country was on the verge of a “Windrush-type tragedy”.

“But serious questions remain unanswered,” he added. “Reports suggest the government has estimated up to 130,000 of those eligible for benefits haven’t applied for settled status.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it was using “every possible channel” to encourage anyone eligible to apply for settled status.

Raising an urgent question in parliament ahead of the cut-off, Blomfield pressed Kevin Foster MP – Home Office minister – on what the government would do to protect older EU citizens in social care, survivors of domestic abuse, children in care and renters, all of whom he said were at particular risk of losing their rights.

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Labour called for a three-month extension on the deadline, to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on people’s ability to apply, but the government refused.

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The deadline is an “unmitigated disaster” which puts thousands at risk of becoming undocumented and losing their jobs and homes, according to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), calling on the government to end the “hostile environment” and give people automatic rights if it will not lift the deadline.

“This will have disastrous consequences on people’s lives. EU citizens fleeing domestic abuse who miss the deadline and then make a late application won’t be eligible for homelessness assistance until they receive a successful grant of status,” said Caitlin Boswell, policy and advocacy advisor for JCWI. 

“This could take months and, in the meantime, will push people back into the hands of abusers or destitution.”

More than 5.6 million applications for settled status were submitted before the end of May, Kevin Foster said, with decisions made on 5.2 million of those.

“We will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to considering late applications made after the deadline,” he added.

“We’ve already confirmed, for example, when we come across people in our immigration enforcement work who could have applied but have missed the deadline, we will give them 28 days to make a late application.”

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ian Blackford MP – Westminster leader for the SNP – called on Boris Johnson to lift the deadline, warning thousands who have built lives in the UK could “become illegal immigrants overnight”.

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Settled status is given to people from the EU who have been living in the UK continuously for at least five years, while those who arrived in the country before Brexit but fewer than five years ago receive “pre-settled” status, which makes it more difficult for them to access benefits. Those who apply before the midnight deadline will retain their rights until a decision is made on their request for the right to stay in the UK.

“EU citizens who have submitted a valid application by 30 June will have their rights protected in law,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

“We have run an extensive advertising campaign on the scheme and made available up to £22 million in funding, up until the end of September 2021, for a network of 72 organisations across the UK to help vulnerable people apply to the scheme.

“The government is using every possible channel to encourage anyone who is eligible for the EU Settlement Scheme to apply before the 30 June deadline.”

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