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Government “won’t have any idea” how many EU citizens lack immigration status after Brexit


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The Home Office will have no idea how many EU residents are left undocumented by Brexit because it does not collect or release the necessary data, a leading immigration policy expert has warned.

Madeleine Sumption said yesterday that the government has no plans to find out how many of the estimated 3.8 million EU nationals living in the UK will still be without valid immigration status when the EU Settlement Scheme closes in June 2021. Sumption, head of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University and a member of the influential Migration Advisory Committee, told MPs:

it is possible that in a few years time when the scheme has been implemented, we won’t really have any idea how inclusive it’s been and whether there are significant numbers of people who fall through the gaps.

The Settlement Scheme, currently at pilot stage and due to open fully the end of March, is designed to process applications for settled status “in a few days“. EU nationals will only have to prove their identity, nationality and current residence in the UK and pass a criminal records check. The Home Office promises that caseworkers will work with applicants to help them pass, with the Home Secretary saying that “throughout, we will be looking to grant, not for reasons to refuse”.

But lawyers and representatives of EU citizens have long warned that since status is not automatically conferred on the eligible population, an unknown number will fail to apply by the deadline or be unable to provide satisfactory evidence. They would become undocumented, “illegal immigrants”. The Migration Observatory has previously said that

Even if only a few percent of the estimated 3.8 million EEA citizens and roughly 140,000 non-EEA partners were unable to provide the evidence required, the number affected could run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

In a recent briefing, the Migration Observatory says that the government will be unable to tell how many people wind up in this position even after the scheme has closed. While the Home Office will know how many have applied, there is not enough data collected to tell how many have fallen through the cracks. This is because “there is no ‘list’ of EU citizens living in the UK and estimates of their numbers are not precise”. The estimated EU population is just that — an estimate — and will change during the time the settlement scheme is open. The briefing says:

if the number of successful applications falls well short of the estimated population of EU citizens and family members, it will be clear—for example, if there were only 2 million people granted some form of status by the deadline. But if the gap is ‘only’ in the tens of thousands, it may not be possible to estimate with any precision how many eligible people who are planning to remain in the UK have not secured the documentation they need to do so

In order to work out the gap between the number of eligible EU citizens and the number that have actually applied, the government would need to build a “demographic profile of who is and isn’t applying”. This could be done to a limited extent using departmental data on applications, but that would not solve the problem because administrative figures cannot be meaningfully combined with the existing population estimates. A better solution would be to add a question to the existing Labour Force Survey to ask EU residents whether they have settled status, which for technical reasons could take 18 months to set up.

Sumption said yesterday that the survey would need to “ask people what type of visa they’re on and that would enable you to work out things like whether people have settled status and what are the characteristics of people who don’t. I’m not aware of any plans in place to try and do that kind of thing”.

Asked for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said that “we have made great progress in preparing for the implementation of the EU Settlement Scheme, which will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need. The process is particularly straightforward and free of charge for EU citizens who hold valid permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain documentation. We recognise that we need to reach out to and support a wide range of people whose needs will vary, such as the elderly, those who cannot access or aren’t confident with technology and non-English speakers. Intensive engagement is underway with community organisations and representatives of vulnerable groups to ensure maximum coverage and reach throughout the lifetime of the scheme”.

Sumption was giving evidence at the Home Affairs committee alongside Professor Alan Manning, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee. In often testy exchanges defending the MAC’s recent report on EU migration policy after Brexit, Manning clarified that “there is nothing in this report that should be interpreted to say that any potential [economic] gains from going it alone on migration can offset substantial weakening of trade ties with the EU”. He also addressed viral Twitter rumours last week that the MAC has recommended a £50,000 minimum salary for work visas after Brexit, saying that “I’d no idea where that came from”.

The current salary threshold for Tier 2 visas is £30,000. The MAC report recommended that this be kept at the same level, although with no quota on the number of visas issued.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.