The EU Settlement Scheme, (EUSS) has been introduced to grant immigration status to EU, EEA (European Economic Area) and Swiss ("EEA+") nationals so that they can continue living in the UK after Brexit. Instead of automatically granting status to EEA+ nationals and their family members, everyone currently in the UK on the basis of EU free movement laws who wants to continue living here after Brexit must apply for status using the EUSS.
The Scheme has therefore been designed to make applications as straightforward as possible and cope with large volumes of applications. In 2018, the Office for National Statistics estimated that over 3.3 million EEA+ nationals were living in the UK.
Factoring in family members who are not themselves EEA+ nationals has led to estimates of 3.5 million - or possibly more - UK residents who will need to apply. Under the current EUSS rules those applications all need to have been submitted by 30 June 2021 if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, or 31 December 2020 if there is no deal.
Over 1.3 million applications
Statistics published by the Home Office show that to date, just over 1.3 million applications have been made under the EUSS, with almost 300,000 made in August 2019 alone.
If we assume that 3.5 million people need to apply, that's just around 38.3% of the total, although it is possible that the total number of applications to date will include some people who have had to apply more than once because an earlier application was invalid or rejected, or because they were initially granted "pre-settled status" and then applied again to for "settled status".
Assuming that the EUSS will close at the end of June 2021 then just under 100,000 applications need to be submitted every month between now and then, or around 133,000 per month if the EUSS closes at the end of 2020.
Based on current rates, the Home Office look to be on track to achieve their target, but they will need to ensure that they continue raising awareness of the requirement to apply, particularly amongst more vulnerable EEA+ nationals, such as the elderly, or those who have difficulty using technology or will have difficulty proving their identity or residence in the UK.
In terms of processing these applications, over 1.15 million applications have been decided to date, with 62% granted settled status and 37% granted pre-settled status. Up until August the government had regularly flagged the fact that nobody had been refused under the EUSS, but August's statistics reveal that one applicant has now been refused on suitability grounds.
Additionally, there is now a growing unresolved cohort of nearly 190,000 applications which have yet to be decided. Anecdotal reports suggest that non-EEA+ family members are typically waiting much longer for decisions, so it is possible that many of these unresolved applications are from family members.
What Does All This Mean For Employers?
The government have confirmed that the rules on conducting Right to Work checks will not change until 2021 at the earliest, so EEA+ passports and identity cards can still be accepted as proof of right to work irrespective of whether or not the holder has applied under the EUSS.
Additionally, the government have confirmed that even in the event of a no deal Brexit, EEA+ nationals will still be able to come to the UK for work and study without any restrictions until the end of 2021. Only those resident before Brexit day will be able to apply under the EUSS though, and those wishing to remain beyond the end of 2020 will need to apply for the recently announced European temporary leave to remain.
Although employers are not obliged to make employees aware of the EUSS, many will want to offer some form of support to affect members of staff. The Home Office have produced an employer toolkit to help them provide employees with information about the EUSS. As the toolkit points out though, employers who are not regulated immigration advisers need to be careful not to advise employees or try to interpret the requirements of the EUSS.