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EEA Nationals: Settled or Pre-settled Status

Volume 696: debated on Monday 7 June 2021

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901004)

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901019)

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901028)

With permission, I will answer these questions on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is dealing with a family bereavement today.

I am glad to say that the EU settlement scheme is going extremely well. So far, 4.9 million people have been granted status. Only 1% of applications have been refused. It is a true United Kingdom success story. Those who have applied prior to 30 June will keep their status until such time as their applications are decided, so I strongly encourage anybody who is eligible to apply for EUSS status before 30 June to make sure that their status is indeed protected.

The reality is that the Minister will know that covid has impeded outreach work to EU nationals who are still to apply. Covid has also caused other issues, such as hampering my constituent’s efforts to travel to London to renew his passport at his embassy. That caused real anxiety. If the Minister will not heed our call to grant automatic status, will he at least look at extending the deadline for a year in order to avoid another Windrush scandal?

Of course, the EUSS has been open since March 2019, so it has been over two years now and significantly predates covid. There are a number of documents people can use if for any reason they do not have their passport or European ID card, and we have given grant funding of £22 million to 72 organisations to help people who need assistance in making the application. I would just say to anyone in the United Kingdom who is entitled to EUSS status to please apply by that deadline. Even if their status is not decided by 30 June, providing they have applied by that deadline, their status will be protected until the decision is made.

Many of the tens of thousands of essential NHS EU workers across the UK may not even be aware that there is a problem with their lack of settled or pre-settled status until their employer or landlord, or another agency, tells them. Does the Minister not agree that there should be an obligation or duty on organisations to signpost individuals to independent advice on the possibility of a late application whenever they encounter an EU national who may be eligible?

I am not sure I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s suggestion that somebody may not have noticed Brexit happening. But, quite seriously, we have grant-funded 72 organisations with a total of £22 million to do outreach and to make sure that people who are vulnerable or require assistance, including outreach, are helped to make the application, and 5.4 million people have applied already, which shows that the scheme has been an enormous United Kingdom success story. However, I repeat that anyone who is eligible should please apply by 30 June. It is about three weeks’ time. Now is the time to apply if they have not applied already.

We have already heard about IT problems, meaning that EEA citizens have been unable to prove their settled status, which the Home Office only allows them to do by digital means. The UK Government are happy providing printed proof of vaccination for those who have no smartphone, or letting people print a PDF if they want back-up in case their phone dies at the airport, so why can something similar not be done for EU settled status?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Fundamentally, this is a UK success story. This system is working, as evidenced by the 5.4 million applications and the 4.9 million grants. To be honest, given all the prognostications of gloom and doom that we heard a couple of years ago, this has been an astonishing success story. If any Member of Parliament has any particular case where a constituent has encountered difficulties, please send it in to my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, or to the Home Secretary, and we will make sure it gets dealt with quickly. We are completely committed to making sure that everybody who is entitled to EUSS status, which is many millions of people, gets that status, which they deserve.

First, we pass on our condolences and best wishes to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and his family.

Despite our fundamental disagreements about the design of the scheme, we do all want it to succeed, but we are concerned that a lot of questions still remain outstanding at this late stage. One of the most fundamental is what happens when tens—possibly hundreds—of thousands put in a late application and have to wait for a decision? Will an EU national still be able to keep working as a carer in our NHS in the meantime, for example, or to rent the flat that they are staying in while they are waiting weeks and possibly months for a decision? Surely the answer to that must be yes. But is it?

The answer is yes. Providing the application is received by 30 June, while the application is being considered—and if it is made on 30 June, clearly it will be decided after 30 June—that particular person will be able to continue working and living as normal with status. So the critical point is to make sure that the application is made by 30 June.

On 26 May, in response to a question from the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry), the Prime Minister told the House that the law would be “merciful” to any EU citizens left in a “difficult position” after the EU settlement scheme deadline passes on 30 June. Further to that, I note that today the Home Office website says that late applications to the scheme will be accepted if there are “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline. Can the Minister assure me that the mercy that the Prime Minister spoke about will guarantee that no one who is entitled to EU settled status but has missed the deadline will lose their rights or access to benefits, or be forcibly detained or removed? Can he tell me how long the late application provision to the scheme will remain open for?

I reiterate the critical point that people should apply before the 30 June deadline, which is already six months after the end of the transition period. The shadow Minister is right and, indeed, the Prime Minister was right as well. If somebody does apply late and there are reasonable grounds for them to have done so—for example, they might have been ill—then latitude will be shown. There is no hard time deadline to that. A reasonable approach will be taken, but again, the best thing to do for any constituent who is entitled to EUSS is to apply for it before 30 June.