Thousands of EU citizens in UK ‘could become illegal’

Awareness of the process to register EU citizens in the UK after Brexit has been highlighted as growing challenge, suggests Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

EU citizens shadow on EU flag
A “potentially significant” number of the three million-plus European Union currently living in the UK could find themselves becoming illegal residents after Brexit because they do not realise they have to register with the government, a report warned on Thursday.

EU citizens UK registration

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said tens of thousands of people – including more than 60,000 aged over 65 and about a quarter of a million with a poor command of English – might not realise they have to apply to the Home Office in order to remain in Britain legally.The report, ‘Unsettled Status’, said that children in care and victims of domestic abuse were also particularly vulnerable as they might not have the support to guide them through the registration process necessary to achieve ‘settled status’.While the majority of the estimated 3.3 million EU citizens working in the country are well educated and are not expected to encounter problems, the Migration Observatory said those without internet access could be badly affected.Madeleine Sumption, the observatory director, said, “Perhaps the biggest challenge, if the government aims to include all EU citizens in the settled status process, is awareness. It’s possible that many people simply won’t realise that they need to apply. “We know from other government programmes, like child benefit, that people often don’t apply for something even when it’s really in their interests to do so. When the deadline arrives, people who haven’t applied lose their legal status. This means that one of the biggest policy questions is what will happen to people who were eligible but didn’t apply in time.“The Home Office is clearly keen to create a system that is easy and straightforward to use, and most EU citizens should be able to sail through a simplified application process with little difficulty. “But for a minority of people, the process will be more difficult. Many of these are already society’s most vulnerable – whether it is because they are socially isolated, have been victims of exploitation, or face personal barriers such as mental health or poverty.”

Government response to registration issues

The government has pledged that the registration process will be “streamlined, low-cost and user-friendly”. Ministers have previously said the system will include an online form of six to eight questions, cost no more than a British passport – currently £75.50 – and should deliver a decision within two weeks of the application being submitted.A Home Office spokesman said, “We are well aware of the challenges of ensuring that three million EU citizens and their family members living here understand the need to apply and have the ability to. That is why we have already launched a national awareness campaign, are holding monthly meetings with EU citizens’ representatives to understand their needs and are planning a range of support for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and families, victims of domestic violence and those with English as a second language.“We will be setting out further details before the summer and EU citizens will have plenty of time to make an application. But we have also been clear that we will exercise discretion if there are good reasons why someone has not been able to make an application before the June 2021 deadline.”For related news and features, visit our Brexit section. Find out more about our upcoming Relocate AwardsRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory