More than 100,000 people have waited for more than three months for their applications to the EU Settlement Scheme to be processed, according to official figures obtained by a think tank.
Some 102,000 EU citizens and family members, including 23,900 children, had applications outstanding for more than three months as of May 7, IPPR said.
Applications for 13,000 people, including 650 children, had been outstanding for at least six months – while 8,000 people, including 285 children, have waited at least a year.
The figures were obtained following a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office.
Since then, a flurry of applications ahead of the deadline on June 30 has led to a growing backlog of cases, the IPPR said.
Its new report, the EU Settlement Scheme and the hostile environment, says these delays raise concerns over the situation for those who apply after the deadline.
The government has pledged that anyone who applies by the deadline will have their existing rights protected, subject to the decision and any appeal.
It typically takes around five working days for complete applications to be processed, but it can take longer than a month if more information is needed, and the Home Office has not committed to completing all applications by June 30.
Anyone who can show ‘reasonable grounds’ for missing the deadline can apply late, but if they do not apply by June 30 and have no other valid leave to remain they will become unlawfully present in the UK.
Late applicants could then face months waiting for their applications to be processed while being unable to start a new job, enter into a new tenancy agreement, obtain a driving licence or make a new benefit claim.
The IPPR is calling for EUSS applicants who are waiting for their application to be approved, including late applicants, to have their rights fully protected.
It also wants the government to expand the set of people considered to have reasonable grounds to apply late, to include vulnerable people such as the elderly, those with no permanent address, those who have suffered bereavement and those living in destitution.
Amreen Qureshi, IPPR researcher and report co-author, said there is the risk of a scandal similar to Windrush emerging as the EUSS deadline passes.
She said: “The Windrush scandal exposed the devastating impacts of the hostile environment on people who had every right to be here, many of whom had come to the UK as children. Now as the EU Settlement Scheme ends there is a risk of a similar scandal unfolding.
“Like with Windrush, children and young people without status after June 30 could face barriers to entering the workplace or higher education as they grow up. Delays to late applications could make their experiences even more difficult and stressful.
“Given our analysis highlights that thousands of applications have been taking months to resolve, the government must act now to ensure that individuals’ status will be protected while they wait.”
Marley Morris, IPPR associate director, said: “As the deadline for the government’s EU Settlement Scheme closes in, there is a risk that many EU citizens will fall through the cracks and be left without status. This could have disastrous implications for their right to work, rent, and access services.
“We welcome the government’s efforts to introduce new last-minute flexibilities, but unfortunately there are still serious gaps.
“The government must act now to protect the rights of people who make late applications, tackle the risk of discrimination from employers and landlords, and support those with pre-settled status to transfer easily on to settled status.”
Kevin Foster, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, said anyone who applies by June 30 will have their rights protected until a decision on their application is made.
He continued: “Since the EUSS launched in March 2019, there have been more than 5.6 million applications and more than 5 million grants of status. I would encourage anyone eligible who hasn’t applied, or has not done so on behalf of their children, to apply now.
“Thanks to our targeted campaigns and communications to encourage parents to apply for their children, we have seen a rise in applications from under 18s, which accounts for higher numbers of applications being processed.
“We have already issued non-exhaustive guidance on what we will consider reasonable grounds for a late application, and to employers on signposting eligible employees to the EUSS.”