More than 750,000 applications from EU citizens wishing to continue living and working in the UK post-Brexit have been received by the Home Office.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the first figures released on applications to the EU Settlement Scheme were “hugely encouraging”.
The scheme allows millions of EU nationals in the UK to secure their right to stay in the country post-Brexit. More than three million people are eligible to apply to carry on living and working in the country.
A report by the Home Office, also out today, found that two-thirds of people who were given their status by the end of April had received settled status, while a third were granted pre-settled status.
Around 570,000 applications had been received from EU citizens in England, 30,000 from Scotland, 9,000 from Wales and 6,000 from Northern Ireland, with the the highest number of applications coming from Polish, Romanian and Italian citizens.
Following the full launch of the scheme on March 25, applicants are required to prove their identity, show that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.
Successful applicants to the scheme are granted immigration status confirming their right to continue living and working in the UK indefinitely.
EU nationals and their family members who have lived continuously in the UK for five years can obtain settled status, meaning they are free to go on living and working in the UK indefinitely.
People with less than five years’ residence can apply for pre-settled status, which can later be converted into settled status.
Some 200,000 had already secured their status during private and public test phases.
Javid said: “EU citizens are our friends, neighbours and colleagues who contribute so much to this country. Whatever the outcome of Brexit we want them to stay.
“Our free and straightforward EU Settlement Scheme has already seen 750,000 applications – which is immensely encouraging. I hope this early success continues in the coming months.”
The launch was not without controversy, with many citizens citing problems with the application process on launch day.
Maike Bohn, from the3million organisation representing the interests of EU citizens in the UK, said: “It is encouraging to see that the government is currently hitting the target of 5K a day needed to process all 3.7m EU citizens before the deadline of June 2021.
“We expected a surge of applications at the beginning and the government must now maintain this pace.”
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University Oxford, previously warned that EU citizens may find it difficult to apply.
At the time of the launch, she warned that the Windrush scandal showed how confusion around legal status can lead to “big problems”, adding: “Even with a well-designed, simple application and a large communications campaign, if the Government wants to get close to 100% coverage, it has a major challenge lying ahead.”
The deadline for applying will be June 30, 2021 in a deal departure, or December 31, 2020 if the UK leaves without a deal.
We expected a surge of applications at the beginning and the government must now maintain this paceMaike Bohn
Bohn warned that “hundreds of thousands” of EU citizens risk losing their legal rights to stay in the UK beyond June 2021 if the government fails to maintain the current application rate.
Bohn added: “As today’s Home Affairs committee report alluded to, people who legally reside in the UK should have those rights written in law now and the system be changed from an application to a simple registration – to avoid a potential repeat of the Windrush scandal.
“It is clear that the easy and straightforward cases will apply first. We worry about the hard to reach and at risk.”
The Home Office has assigned more than 1,500 operational staff to the scheme, and rolled out a £3.75m nationwide advertising campaign ahead of the launch.
Up to £9 million of funding is available for voluntary and community sector organisations so they can help vulnerable people apply.
The government says it has provided more than 200 “Assisted Digital” locations across the UK to support applicants through the process.