Post-Brexit, all EU, EEA and Swiss citizens (‘EU citizens’) and their non-EEA family members living in the UK are required to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (‘EUSS’) in order to continue living legally in the UK after 30 June 2021. People who are currently living abroad, but who have previously lived in the UK for five years, may also apply be eligible for settled status.
The status of EU citizens in the UK who fail to apply to the EUSS before the deadline is currently uncertain. As such, an estimate of the number of people who need to apply would be helpful to ensure that the affected population have properly secured their rights before the deadline, so that no one is left in limbo. This is easier said than done as there is no centralised record of the number of EU citizens living in the UK, so will we ever know the true number?
The Home Office has been regularly releasing statistics on the number of applications the EUSS has received. The latest figures for January 2020 showed that:
- A total of 3.1 million applications were received by 31 January 2020
- 2.7 million applications were concluded by 31 January 2020, of which 58% were granted settled status and 41% were granted pre-settled status
- 351,800 applications were received in January 2020
At first glance, the task of estimating the number of people who still need to apply to the EUSS seems a simple exercise in comparing the number of EU citizens living in the UK to the number of applications the Home Office has received. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 3.4 million EU citizens are resident in the UK.
However, the ONS has recently released a note explaining the pitfalls of applying their population estimate to the EUSS application data, advising that the two sets of data should not be directly compared.
Importantly, estimates of EU citizens living in the UK do not include eligible non-EU family members, nor does the estimate include eligible citizens who are not currently resident in the UK. The ONS statistic is also based on data from the Annual Population Survey, which does not survey people living in communal establishments such as care homes, hostels and halls of residence, people who are absent from a household for more than six months, or people studying in the UK on a shorter-term basis. The exclusion of these people suggests that the actual number of people eligible under the EUSS will be larger than the ONS estimate. Therefore, relying on the ONS estimate risks underestimating the number of people affected.
Conversely, there are people who are included in ONS population estimate who do not need to apply for the EUSS, which further complicates the numbers, for example, people with indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK and people exempt from immigration control such as foreign diplomats. The ONS estimate is also intention-blind; there are EU citizens who are currently resident in the UK for a range of reasons, and some of them may not intend to settle here on a permanent basis, so will never apply under the EUSS.
Moreover the statistics are gathered using different methodologies. Home Office statistics count the actual number of applications made. Some of these applications will have been made by people living outside the UK, and other people will have made more than one application, for instance if they were initially granted pre-settled status and have applied again for settled status. The ONS statistic is an estimate based on a sample survey, so is inevitably more uncertain.
The inaccuracy of comparing these figures can be shown by the fact that the Home Office has already received 156,600 applications from Bulgarian citizens, whereas the ONS estimates only 109,000 Bulgarians are currently resident in the UK. This cannot be taken to mean that every Bulgarian in the UK has already applied to the EUSS.
These difficulties point to the caution needed when estimating the number of people eligible to apply for the EUSS. The number of applications received cannot be accurately compared to estimates of resident EU nationals to calculate the number of people who should apply under the EUSS. Ultimately, the true numbers of eligible citizens may never be known and the EUSS will be with us for many years after the deadline.