Analysis: today is the deadline for EU citizens living in the UK to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme

By Alan Desmond, University of Leicester

As part of its withdrawal from the EU, the UK put in place a scheme for EU citizens present in the UK before December 31st 2020 to apply for continued lawful residence. The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) allows for 'settled status', or permanent residence, to be conferred on successful applicants who have been living continuously for a minimum of five years in the UK.

Applicants who have not yet been continuously resident for five years are granted 'pre-settled status', and may apply to switch to ‘settled status’ after they have completed five years of continuous residence. The deadline for applications was set for June 30th 2021, though there are concerns about the fate of the tens of thousands of eligible EU citizens in the UK who are expected to fail to apply by this date.

Why did the UK establish the EUSS?

Following Brexit, the UK is no longer party to the EU's free movement regime where citizens of one EU member state may freely move to another EU member state. This means that EU citizens who seek to enter the UK post-Brexit are subject to the same immigration rules as people from such countries as China, the US and India. EU citizens who moved to the UK before December 31st 2020 can avoid these immigration rules by applying for permanent residence or pre-settled status under the EUSS.

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From Channel 4 News in 2019, what's next for EU citizens in the UK?

Launched in 2019, it's a fee-free scheme run by the UK Visas and Immigration division of the Home Office to implement the citizens' rights provisions of the agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The core rules of the scheme are set out in the UK's voluminous and labyrinthine Immigration Rules. EU member states have also taken measures to secure the residence rights of British citizens who had been living other EU member states prior to Brexit.

Despite the reference to the EU in the title of the scheme, applications to the EUSS may be made by citizens of a total of 31 countries, namely the 27 EU member states as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

What's the EUSS application process like?

Applications have to be made online and applicants must submit proof of their identity in the form of a passport or biometric residence card or permit, as well as a digital photo of the applicant's face. Length of residence can be established through an applicant's National Insurance number which is used to run automated checks of tax and benefits records.

From RTÉ Six One News in September 2019, UK to end EU free movement immediately after Brexit

If a national insurance number is unavailable, or unsuccessful in confirming length of residence, a wide range of documents is accepted as evidence of residence, including mortgage statements, rental agreements, bank account summaries and invoices for school or university fees. Applications are subject to a suitability assessment and may be rejected where an applicant has provided false or misleading information or has previous criminal convictions.

How many have applied for the Scheme?

Back in 2019, official estimates had put the number of EU citizens in the UK at 3.7 million. Grassroots organisation the3million, set up after the 2016 Brexit referendum result to advocate for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, had taken its name from the estimated number of EU citizens in the UK.

But as of the end of last month, over 5.6 million applications had been made to the EUSS, revealing a far higher number of EU citizens in the UK than had been previously thought. Despite the unexpectedly high number of applications, there are fears that many vulnerable EU citizens may fail to apply to the scheme by June 30th.

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From Channel 4 News, why EU citizens in UK are worried about their futures and confused about the settled status scheme

Why might someone miss the deadline?

There is a a range of eligible EU citizens who need to apply to the EUSS, but are expected to miss the 30 June deadline. These include long-term residents who mistakenly believe they already have the right to lawfully continue living and working in the UK, as well as children born in Britain whose parents mistakenly believe the children are British citizens.

Particular concern has been expressed about the failure of EU citizen children in care to apply, some of whom have spent their entire lives in the UK. Earlier this year, the Children’s Society reported that EUSS applications had been made on behalf of only 39% of children in care or individuals who had recently left care after turning 18.

Will people who miss the deadline be deported?

Failure to register by today will mean an individual is unlawfully present in the UK. This may have particularly serious consequences for vulnerable children and young adults. They may lose access to essential services and support and be deprived of the right to work, hold a bank account or driving licence. A period of unlawful residence may impact their eligibility for financial support if they seek to attend university, and may create obstacles for future applications for British citizenship. Unlawfully present migrants are technically liable to removal from the UK.

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From RTÉ News, latest edition of Tony Connelly's Brexit Republic podcast

The Home Office will accept and approve late applications to the EUSS where there are "reasonable grounds for failing to meet the deadline." In the week following the 30 June deadline, a formal 28-day notice will be issued to individuals who have failed to apply for status.

According to Kevin Foster, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, individuals "may be liable for enforcement action and will not be eligible for work, benefits or services" where applications have still not been made after 28 days. However, the Home Office "would want to work with them to understand why that is the case, and then support them again to make the application."

Does this affect Irish people in the UK?

For historical reasons, Irish citizens have a special status in UK law which means that they had greater rights in the UK than other EU citizens even before Brexit. Following Brexit, this special status means that the Irish may continue to reside and work in the UK without applying to the EUSS.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's History Show, a history of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK

However, there is a requirement for applications to be made by the UK-based family members of Irish citizens who are neither British nor Irish citizens. Irish citizens themselves are entitled to apply to the EUSS if they wish. Statistics show that over 10,000 Irish citizens had submitted applications up to the end of March 2021. Despite the withdrawal of the UK from the EU's free movement regime following Brexit, Irish citizens may continue in the future to move to the UK to live and work without meeting the immigration requirements set out in the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system.

Dr Alan Desmond is a lecturer in law at the University of Leicester and deputy editor of the Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law. He is the author of the recent policy brief Reconsidering Regularisation of Irregular Migrants in the EU in the light of COVID-19. He is a former Irish Research Council awardee.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ