The government has been warned that up to 1 million EU citizens living in the UK could be at risk of deportation if it does not come up with a simple way of recognising their status in the country.
The 3 Million, a grassroots group lobbying for the rights of non-British citizens who have made the UK their home, has told the home secretary it would take the Home Office 47 years to process applications from EU citizens for permanent residency (PR). “We are people with families, children, friends and work colleagues, and we are rightly worried about a very uncertain future,” said Nicolas Hatton, chair of the 3 Million, in his letter to Amber Rudd.
“EU citizens have been feeling very anxious about their future since the referendum, and this set of data will not reassure them. We call on you to remove the threat of deportation without notice and give us, today, guarantees that all EU citizens living legally in the UK will be able to exercise their right to remain before the UK leaves the EU.”
Theresa May has consistently said that rights for EU citizens were a legitimate part of Brexit negotiations, but on Thursday night the government seemed to go one step further by indicating their rights could be removed if not reciprocated.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.”
The estimated time it would take the Home Office to deal with the 3 million EU citizens in the country is based on the latest immigration data, which shows a surge in applications for PR since the EU referendum, which has caused a backlog of 100,000 applications.
Former Labour MP Roger Casale and 3 Million founder Nicholas Hatton. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll
PR was designed for non-EU citizens who wished to settle in the UK and involves an 85-page application form. Applicants not only have to provide five years of council tax bills, bank statements or utility bills to demonstrate residency, but also have to document each time they have been in and out of the country since they arrived in the UK.
Monika Lutke-Daldrup from Germany, who is an executive with a large European firm and lives in Watford, told the Guardian: “I travel about 20 times a year and I have been here for 18 years. It is ridiculous.”
Paola Rizatto said: “I am an educated person, but I found the 85-page form so overwhelming that I decided to hire an immigration lawyer. I have already spent around £1,000.”
Several mothers who have British children say they are not eligible for PR because their household bills are not in their names. “Just to be married to a British person or to have British children is not enough,” said one. Another, who asked not to be named, said she had been told to get her child’s school to sign a statement that she had been picking up her child each day for the past five years.
The 3 Million said the Home Office process for PR “is totally inconsistent and depends on what Home Office adviser you get”.
Data published on Thursday shows that 30% of applications are rejected, with many EU citizens unable to pass the paperwork test despite their legal right of residence as EU citizens.
If the government requires all non-Britons to join the non-EU immigrants in the permanent residency queue, up to 1 million could face deportation the day the UK leaves the EU.
The Home Office said there had been “no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK as a result of the referendum”. Its guidance was that EU citizens did not need to apply for permanent residence. “As such there is no requirement to register for documentation to confirm their status,” a spokesperson said.
About the author:
Lisa O'Carroll is the Guardian's Brexit correspondent.
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