UK lets thousands apply to remain long after Brexit cutoff
Tens of thousands of European Union citizens are still applying to remain in the UK months after the government’s post-Brexit deadline, a sign that many businesses may be employing people without so-called settled status.
Last month alone, the British Home Office received almost 65,000 applications from EU citizens to stay in the country, according to Bloomberg calculations from official data. That brings the total received since the June 30 deadline to more than 236,000.
People are only discovering that they do not have the right papers as they start traveling again or when they try to change jobs, according to immigration lawyers. The government so far appears to be taking a flexible approach to the late applications. Still, mixed messaging and a lack of clarity around how such workers may be dealt with in the future is creating uncertainty for industries like hospitality that rely on EU talent.
The current climate is “nerve-wracking” for firms helping EU citizens who missed the deadline, said Kim Vowden, senior associate at Kingsley Napley LLP in London. “At the moment the Home Office is being flexible about people applying late, but they can change the policy whenever they like.”
EU nationals enjoyed the right to live and work in the country before Brexit took effect in January. Following Britain’s exit from the bloc, those already living in the UK had to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to secure their residence rights. Those that do not have that settled status now require a visa to work, live or study in Britain.
The confusion around settled status adds further complications to an already tight labor market across Britain’s supply chains. Over 200,000 EU citizens left the UK in 2020, driven away by Brexit and the worst recession in three centuries. Sectors like construction and retail have struggled to fill vacancies.
Vowden said a client of his firm who is awaiting approval of a late application was questioned by the Border Force while trying to board the Eurostar in Rotterdam in October. The person was handed a letter saying that they could return to the UK, but should then avoid traveling again until receiving settled status.
Around 5.5 million EU nationals applied to continue living in the UK by June 30. The Home Office made a U-turn in August when it said it would support late submissions for those with “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline. Those can range from medical conditions and mental health issues, to Covid-19 restrictions and a simple lack of knowledge of the process.
There is currently a backlog of almost 400,000 applications waiting to be processed, according to the Home Office website.
“We look for reasons to grant status rather than refuse and we encourage anyone eligible who is yet to apply to get in touch and join the millions who have already secured their rights,” a Home Office spokesperson said in an email.
The light-touch approach also applies to British employers. According to official guidance, businesses only have to check the right-to-work status for new hires, not for those who were already on their payroll as of July 1. If they happen to discover existing EU employees did not apply for settled status, they should advise them to submit an application within 28 days.
Lawyers expect that many firms will continue to be unaware that they have workers without settled status unless they carry out their own internal audits.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has said it will continue to accept late applications indefinitely. It is now also sending letters to EU nationals who have not applied yet urging them to do so in 28 days.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.