Hard to know if EU Settlement Scheme is working, immigration experts warn

Gaps in Government data are making it difficult to know whether the EU Settlement Scheme is working, immigration experts have claimed.

EU citizens are asked to apply to the Home Office’s EUSS scheme in order to carry on living and working in the UK after freedom of movement with the European Union ends.

But without “significant investments in new official data, there will be no way of verifying whether it is reaching this goal”, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford warned in a report.

More than 3.3 million people have applied for the scheme so far.

According to the official data to the end of February, 58% (1,735,500) had been granted permanent leave to remain in the UK, known as settled status, and 41% (1,236,700) were given pre-settled status, where they would need to re-apply again after living in the country for five years to gain permanent residence.

The latest monthly statistics on uptake of the scheme are due to be published on Thursday.

The report said: “As a flagship immigration programme that will affect the lives of millions of migrants in the UK, there is naturally great interest in how to measure its performance, including how smoothly the scheme operates day to day, whether it is granting people the right status, who is applying, and who and how many eligible people have not yet applied.

“The inclusiveness and coverage of the scheme are crucially important, since the default policy position is that people who do not secure their status through EUSS will lose their legal status in the UK.

“These questions are remarkably hard to answer using the available data, leaving significant gaps in the evidence base about EUSS.”

Last month the Home Office warned applications to the scheme would be hit by delays due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Observatory’s report warns this could cause problems with identifying vulnerable EU citizens who most likely to be among those who fail to apply and disrupt the collection of official data collection.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Observatory and author of the report, said: “The Government has invested a lot of effort in making the EU Settlement Scheme easy to use, but with any scheme of this size it is inevitable that some people will fall through the cracks.

“It will be very hard to know to what extent this has happened, without a parallel investment in new data.

“For a host of reasons, it’s possible that the number of EU citizens granted status through the scheme could greatly exceed the current official estimate of 3.4 million but that wouldn’t necessarily mean the task is finished.

“Any discussion about whether to extend or drop the deadline next year will have to take place without a clear picture of how many people have not yet applied.”

The report claims the official estimate of 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK is not a good guide to the number of people eligible to apply because the figure does not take into account those living in places like care homes or caravan parks but may still include those who have emigrated.

It said: “The actual figure could be considerably higher, but at this stage it is not possible to say by how much.

“This means that when the deadline for applications arrives, it may be impossible to know how many people are set to lose their legal status and become irregular migrants because they did not apply.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “More than three million grants of status under the scheme have already been made and there is still more than a year left to apply until the deadline of June 30 2021.

“We are working closely with employers, local authorities and charities to raise awareness of the EU Settlement Scheme and identify those who are eligible.

“A wide range of support has been available for applicants since the scheme opened, including throughout the coronavirus pandemic.”

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