Millions Of EU Nationals In Britain Haven’t Applied For Settled Status. We Asked Them Why

There’s a long list of reasons why 2.6 million people have not yet applied to settle in Britain after Brexit.
Anti-Brexit supporters at protests near the Houses of Parliament this week.
Anti-Brexit supporters at protests near the Houses of Parliament this week.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A lack of trust, confusion and even having the wrong type of phone – these are just a few of the reasons why just under three quarters of European nationals in the UK have not applied to stay here after Brexit.

Leaving the EU has created a plethora of logistical headaches, involving everything from how we disentangle from EU law to keeping supermarket shelves stocked with fresh food.

One of the key issues arising from the debate has long been the fate of the roughly 3.7million EU nationals living in the UK, and how their rights to stay in the country will be affected on October 31.

Earlier this year the government rolled out its EU Settlement Scheme, which allows EU nationals who have lived in the UK for more than five years to apply for settled status, and those who have lived in the UK for less than five years to apply for pre-settled status.

As of July 31 this year, a million EU citizens had applied for settled status in the UK after Brexit. However, it is thought that some 2.6million people who are eligible are yet to apply.

The Home Office has stated, regardless of whether the UK exits the EU with a deal or no-deal, that applications for the EU settlement scheme will remain open until at least December 30, 2020.

However, from controversies about paying to apply (a cost that was swiftly withdrawn after a public outcry), to concerns raised about the official app only being made available on Android devices, the scheme has drawn some significant criticism over the past four-and-a-half months.

We asked some of the 2.6 million who had so far avoided the application process exactly what has stopped them – whether it was confusion about the logistical process, a lack of time, or a rebellion against the very idea of having to apply to remain. This is what they had to say:

Elin, 40, Devon

I have been living and working in the UK since arriving in 1998 from Sweden, for 21 years now, and there are a couple of reasons why I haven’t yet applied for settled status. The first of which was that I wasn’t happy with the idea of starting the process when there was all the confusion about whether or not we would have to pay.

Secondly, as an Apple user, I also don’t have access to the app you use to apply. I could borrow a phone from a friend, but that didn’t really feel like a feasible solution.

I think I am probably a little bit in denial about the whole thing and what Brexit is actually going to mean for me. I have got my whole life set up here.

Getting settled status isn’t even a registration process, it’s an application process. In one way that’s just semantics, but in another it’s actually really important.

The more that comes out about the situation changing from what we were originally told, that nothing would change and our rights would automatically be granted, the more I wonder if the country is moving in the direction of a country I actually want to live in.

Antonio de Vecchi, 47, Leicester

I haven’t applied yet because I don’t trust the system, it feels flimsy and I think it has already shown many flaws.

I have been in the UK from Italy since 2003 and have applied for a permanent residency card instead so am in the process of waiting for that, even though almost as soon as it comes through it might become a little bit redundant.

I just don’t understand why I should have to apply for settled status when I already have that right – it seems as though there is a lot of confusion.

I trust the permanent residency system more even though I have had to pay for it, overall it seems to be much more secure and I am less concerned about my documents doing it this way.

I don’t think that there would be a problem with my application, but I just don’t want to take the risk and end up in a bad position.

If it turns out that I absolutely have to apply then I will, but I don’t understand why the two systems don’t talk to one another and work out who has a right to stay here. It could be much simpler.”

The Home Office have advised EU citizens that permanent residence cards will not be valid after December 31, 2020, and those willing to stay in the UK should apply under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Christine Quigley, 33, London

I’m an Irish citizen without any other citizenship and have been in the United Kingdom since 2004 to study, after which I stayed, married a British guy, and bought a house.

Irish citizens are in a slightly different situation to other EU nationals because of the Common Travel Area which essentially precedes the European Union, but it has been a little bit confusing when it comes to what settled status means.

Settled status doesn’t really exist for Irish nationals however the official guidance comes from the Home Office - it’s basically that Irish citizens don’t have to apply, but we can if we want to, which is kind of weird and unsettling.

Even though I haven’t applied because objectively I know that it’s going to be really difficult to change my status in the UK, practically and emotionally, I’m at a point where I think I should anyway.

Applying for settled status has been on my radar for quite a while, but only recently after I realised we could actually be heading towards this no-deal Brexit I started thinking that I should register just to be safe.

The whole process seems a bit ludicrous to be honest, so I’ve got to either find somebody with an Android phone, or I’ve got to go to my local library and show my documents, or I’ve got to put my passport in the post, which just isn’t feasible because people have to travel.

I’m starting to see what it’s like engaging with the Home Office. I’m lucky that English is my first language, I’m relatively well educated, and I can negotiate stuff, but it’s not that straight forward at all. If somebody doesn’t have English as their first language, or if they’re perhaps a bit older, then it must be absolutely terrifying.

The Home Office has stated that Irish nationals do not have to apply for settled status, but may apply if they want to as EU citizens.

Clare, 27, Wales

I have been in the United Kingdom from New Zealand since 2015 as a Dutch national so technically I am not able to apply for settled status until next May, when I will have been a resident for five years. I could apply for pre-settled status now but I haven’t as I feel it is insulting and I object to the entire concept.

Brexit isn’t the only reason I’m planning to leave the United Kingdom in the next year or so, but it has played a part. When I moved here I didn’t envisage staying permanently, but I don’t want the next 20 years of my working life to revolve around Brexit which is something I could see happening if I made the decision to stay.

To me, the whole point of being a European citizen is that I have a right to stay here, but now to be asked to show the ways in which I can make a contribution to the country feels like an insult.

If I was planning to stay here long term I would apply, I wouldn’t want to cut of my nose to spite my face so to speak, but in my situation I am happy to make it difficult – I have no incentive to make it convenient.