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Over 6 million EU citizens in Britain apply to stay there post-Brexit

Pro-EU protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London
Pro-European Union protesters demonstrate against Brexit split outside the Houses of Parliament in London in January 2020.
(Matt Dunham / Associated Press)

More than 6 million European Union citizens in the U.K. applied to maintain their residency before the end-of-Wednesday deadline that the British government imposed as part of the country’s departure from the bloc, officials said Friday.

Britain’s Home Office said that of the 6.02 million people who had applied, 400,000 applications were made in the final month before the end of the EU Settlement Scheme.

“Having more than 6 million applications to the scheme is an unprecedented achievement, and I am delighted that we have secured the rights of so many EU citizens — our friends, neighbors and family members,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement Friday.

The Home Office said that the 570,000 people with pending applications will have their rights protected until their application is decided and that there will be “indefinite scope” for anyone who missed the deadline to make a late application.

People who submitted an application by the deadline have received a certification that they can use if they need to prove their immigration status for any reason, such as taking up a new job or renting a property.

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The scheme was introduced in March 2019 as part of Britain’s plans to leave the EU, which were set in motion by a 2016 referendum. One of the main impacts of Brexit was an end to the freedom of movement that permitted any EU citizen to live and work in Britain — as a then-member of the EU — and vice versa for British citizens.

Britain’s Brexit minister says post-Brexit relations between the U.K. and the European Union are likely to be ‘bumpy’ for some time.

The settlement program allows EU citizens who were already living in the U.K. before its final break from the EU at the end of 2020 to apply to maintain their residency. Under the program, they will be guaranteed their rights in the country, including access to benefits and healthcare. Any EU citizen who hasn’t applied for residency could now potentially lose their rights or even be subject to deportation.

Similar policies have been in place in the EU with regard to the 1 million or so British citizens who live within the bloc. Those applying for post-Brexit residency permits in France also faced a deadline Wednesday.

One key concern is that the immigration policy could leave a disastrous legacy similar to Britain’s so-called Windrush scandal, when many people from the Caribbean who legally settled in the U.K. decades ago were wrongly caught up in tough new government rules to crack down on illegal immigration.

Many in the Windrush generation — named after the ship that carried the first postwar migrants to Britain from the West Indies — lost their homes and jobs or were even deported simply because they couldn’t produce paperwork proving their residency rights.


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