Almost twice as many EU citizens as thought have been living in UK

·3 min read
Previous Home Office estimates had suggested 3.5 to 4.1 million EU citizens were expected to apply for settled status - Tolga Akmen/ AFP
Previous Home Office estimates had suggested 3.5 to 4.1 million EU citizens were expected to apply for settled status - Tolga Akmen/ AFP

Nearly twice as many EU citizens have been living in the UK as previously thought, with the number of applications for settled status having passed six million.

A near record monthly total of 400,000 EU citizens applied for settled status in June to beat Wednesday night's deadline, taking the total applicants for the scheme to 6.02 million, the Home Office disclosed on Friday.

That compares with previous Home Office estimates of 3.5 to 4.1 million EU citizens who were expected to apply, and Office for National Statistics (ONS) passenger survey data which estimated that around 3.5 million EU citizens were living in the UK in the middle of last year.

There are concerns among migration experts and EU communities that there could be a further 500,000 eligible EU citizens who may have missed the June 30 deadline and could still apply late. The Home Office has promised to deal with late applicants on a case-by-case basis.

Addressing the huge disparity between the estimated and actual figures, the ONS said many who had applied for pre-settled status will not yet have decided whether to stay in Britain for the long term. It said other applicants may no longer live in the UK but would have returned home due to the Covid pandemic or for work.

EU citizens with pre-settled status are allowed to break their residency to return to their home country for up to a year and still be entitled to claim settled status once they complete five years in the UK. Those who have lived in Britain for five years are entitled to settled status.

Christian Dustmann, the director of UCL's Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, warned that there could still be major job shortages in lower skilled jobs such as the care sector, haulage drivers and restaurant staff despite the apparent surge in numbers of EU citizens.

He said many EU citizens would have "hedged" their bets by applying even if they might not stay in the UK. However, significant numbers of East Europeans had returned to their home countries where the economies were thriving.

"I would not think there will be 6.2 million European citizens available for the labour market. It is probably much, much smaller," said Prof Dustmann. "What has increased is migration from non-European countries. That has partly compensated for the outward migration by EU citizens."

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: "When we left the EU we promised to protect the rights of EU citizens who have made their life in the UK, and developed the hugely successful EU Settlement Scheme to ensure they could call the UK home in the years to come.

"Having more than six million applications to the scheme is an unprecedented achievement, and I am delighted that we have secured the rights of so many EU citizens – our friends, neighbours and family members."

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