ALMOST 24,000 CHILDREN of EU families have been waiting more than three months for their right to remain in the UK to be decided, according to new UK Home Office figures – and 285 have faced uncertainty for more than a year.

They are among more than 100,000 EU citizens and family members who were waiting over three months for their applications to be decided, revealed under a freedom of information (FOI) request by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). In all, 7,500 people have faced delays of more than a year.

The new figures on delays raise concerns over the situation of EU citizens who apply to remain after today (30 June), the official deadline. Anyone who can show “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline may apply late – but could lose their legal right to work, rent or make new benefit claims, for what could be many months, while they wait for their cases to be decided.

They will join others also at risk of facing the full force of the ‘hostile environment’ set up to deter illegal immigration, which contributed to the Windrush scandal when long-standing residents of the UK were wrongly shut out of key services and some were forced to leave.

The IPPR report notes that in many respects the EU settlement scheme has been a “great success”, with more than 5 million applications submitted and concluded, many within a week. However, amid a last-minute rush to apply before the deadline, there is a growing backlog now reported to be more than 400,000 outstanding cases.

IPPR’s FOI request gave a disturbing snapshot of the first week in May, when the backlog was slightly lower. Of the cases then waiting to be determined, IPPR found:

  • 102,000 applications had been outstanding for at least three months, including those of 23,900 childrenunder the age of 16
  • 13,000 applications had been outstanding for six months or more, (650 children)
  • 8,000 applications including those of 285 children were still outstanding after at least a year

The report recommends a series of key reforms to safeguard those who apply late, to streamline the process in future, and to prevent a ‘hostile environment’ applying to EU citizens and their families:

  • Expand the set of people judged to have ‘reasonable grounds’ to apply late (after the deadline), by including all those normally considered ‘vulnerable citizens’ by the Home Office – including the elderly, those without a permanent address, and those with significant language or literacy problems.
  • Legal protection to prevent all EU citizens being classed as ‘overstayers’ while waiting for their application to be decided, particularly those making valid late applications. This would mean protecting their rights to work, study and reside in the UK.
  • Impose a statutory duty on employers, landlords and public sector workers to signpost the settlement scheme to anyone they believe may be eligible, after June 30.
  • Streamline the process for EU citizens completing their five-year ‘pre-settled status’ to transfer to long-term ‘settled status’, by making it unnecessary to prove ‘continuous residence’ over the previous five years – to cut the risk of people missing the deadline, or of being trapped in ‘dead end’ pre-settled status.

Marley Morris, IPPR Associate Director who heads IPPR’s work on Brexit and migration, said: “As the deadline for the government’s EU Settlement Scheme closes in, there is a risk that many EU citizens will fall through the cracks and be left without status. This could have disastrous implications for their right to work, rent, and access services.

“We welcome the government’s efforts to introduce new last-minute flexibilities, but unfortunately there are still serious gaps. The government must act now to protect the rights of people who make late applications, tackle the risk of discrimination from employers and landlords, and support those with pre-settled status to transfer easily on to settled status.”

Amreen Qureshi, IPPR researcher and co-author of the report, said: “The Windrush scandal exposed the devastating impacts of the hostile environment on people who had every right to be here, many of whom had come to the UK as children. Now as the EU Settlement Scheme ends there is a risk of a similar scandal unfolding.

“Like with Windrush, children and young people without status after June 30 could face barriers to entering the workplace or higher education as they grow up. Delays to late applications could make their experiences even more difficult and stressful.

“Given our analysis highlights that thousands of applications have been taking months to resolve, the government must act now to ensure that individuals’ status will be protected while they wait.”

* Read The EU Settlement Scheme and the Hostile Environment here.

* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research