Data gaps 'cast doubt' on EU expat numbers

"Significant gaps" in government data make it difficult to assess how effective the EU Settlement Scheme is.

EU flag with the word immigration as a puzzle piece
More than 3.4 million applications had been received by the end of March under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), the Home Office announced on Thursday.The total is now higher than the official estimate of the number of EU nationals believed to be resident in the country and a leading immigration watchdog said that "significant gaps" in government data were making it difficult to assess how effective the scheme was actually working.The Home Office said that, in March, 125,000 new applications were received, the lowest monthly figure since June last year when 121,000 were recorded. Some 3.1 million of the applications had been approved, leaving a backlog of 321,700 still to complete.Of the approved applications, 1,813,300 were granted permanent, settled status while 1,299,300 were granted pre-settled status, giving them the right to remain until they could apply for permanent status after living in the UK for five years.

Significant investment in new ways of collating official data needed

But the Migration Observatory at Oxford University said in a report on Thursday that unless there were significant investments in new ways of collating official data, "there will be no way of verifying" how effective the scheme has actually been."As a flagship immigration programme that will affect the lives of millions of migrants in the UK, there is naturally great interest in how to measure its performance, including how smoothly the scheme operates day to day, whether it is granting people the right status, who is applying, and who and how many eligible people have not yet applied," said the report."The inclusiveness and coverage of the scheme are crucially important, since the default policy position is that people who do not secure their status through EUSS will lose their legal status in the UK."These questions are remarkably hard to answer using the available data, leaving significant gaps in the evidence base about EUSS."
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Coronavirus delays handling of EU settlement applications

The report also pointed out that the Home Office had accepted the handling of applications would be delayed by the coronavirus outbreak and said this could cause problems identifying vulnerable EU citizens.Madeleine Sumption, the Migration Observatory director, said, "The government has invested a lot of effort in making the EU Settlement Scheme easy to use, but with any scheme of this size it is inevitable that some people will fall through the cracks."It will be very hard to know to what extent this has happened, without a parallel investment in new data."For a host of reasons, it's possible that the number of EU citizens granted status through the scheme could greatly exceed the current official estimate of 3.4 million but that wouldn't necessarily mean the task is finished."Any discussion about whether to extend or drop the deadline next year will have to take place without a clear picture of how many people have not yet applied."

There could be considerably more than 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK

The report said the official estimate of 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK (which excludes nationals from the Irish Republic) is not a good guide to the number of people eligible to apply because it took no account of people living in places such as care homes or caravan parks, but might take into account people who have emigrated."The actual figure could be considerably higher, but at this stage it is not possible to say by how much," said the report."This means that when the deadline for applications arrives, it may be impossible to know how many people are set to lose their legal status and become irregular migrants because they did not apply."

UK Home Office working closely with employers, local authorities and charities

A Home Office spokesman said, "More than three million grants of status under the scheme have already been made and there is still more than a year left to apply until the deadline of June 30 2021."We are working closely with employers, local authorities and charities to raise awareness of the EU Settlement Scheme and identify those who are eligible."A wide range of support has been available for applicants since the scheme opened, including throughout the coronavirus pandemic."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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