The figures for December 2019 have been released by the Home Office.
The Settlement Scheme (“EUSS”) statistics make for interesting reading. The Home Office had received a total of 2,756,100 applications by the end of December 2019, an increase of 1,846,800 on the number of applications that was received by the end of June 2019.
Interestingly, the statistics suggest that the Home Office is finally beginning to better manage the increase in applications. The difference in the number of applications received and the number of applications concluded – a “backlog” – spiked dramatically in the early autumn, and peaked at an alarming 525,000 in October 2019. By the end of December, the backlog had reduced to 306,000.
Whether the Home Office will be able to keep up this encouraging progress remains to be seen. After 3 years of uncertainty, a Brexit timetable finally appears to be setting in stone. Following the December 2019 general election, the now majority Conservative government has got its Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons. If the Bill manages to pass through the House of Lords, the UK will leave the EU on the last day of this month. Any EU citizens resident in the UK before this date who have not yet applied to the EUSS must apply by 30 June 2021. For those EU citizens who have not yet arrived, free movement will continue until the end of this year (the “transition period”) and provided that their residence in the UK began before the end of this year, they will also be able to apply for pre-settled status under the EUSS. The government is proposing a new immigration system from 1 January 2021, and any EU citizens arriving after 2020 will have to apply for status under this new system
With the clock now firmly ticking on the EUSS, it will be interesting to see if the Home Office can continue to make progress on the current backlog. With media reports that an estimated 900,000 people have yet to apply to the EUSS, it may well be that Brexit brings an increase in applications as the need for EU citizens to secure their status becomes more stark. There is a concern that those who are with more complex histories and circumstances, and the vulnerable, either have yet to apply or are being wrongly issued with “pre-settled status” instead of “settled status”. The current statistics may be disguising a crisis in the making.