Over 400K EU Citizen Applications to Stay in U.K. Backlogged as Deadline Approaches

More than 400,000 European Union citizen applications are currently stuck in a backlog as the June 30 deadline for permanent U.K. residency approaches.

The British government has declined to extend the deadline, and EU citizenship advocates worry that some people aren't even aware they need to apply.

After the U.K. withdrew from the EU in 2020, people from the union no longer have the default right to reside in the U.K., while people from the U.K. no longer have the default right to live in the 27 EU countries. Without applying for permanent residency by the deadline, EU citizens may lose their ability to live and work in the U.K., the Associated Press reported.

U.K. Immigration Minister Kevin Foster clarified Wednesday that any calls to prolong the application deadline would not be heeded.

"Put simply, extending the deadline is not a solution in itself to reaching those people who have not yet applied and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating even more uncertainty," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. The U.K. is refusing to extend the June 30 deadline for EU citizens to apply for permanent residency in the U.K., even as 400,000 applications are backlogged. Matt Dunham/AP Photo

The U.K. government says there have been 5.6 million applications since the program opened in March 2019, only a handful of which have been refused. That is far more than the government's pre-Brexit estimate that about 3 million EU citizens lived in Britain. The number of EU residents in Britain who have not applied is unknown.

The government says people who have applied by the end of June will be sent letters giving them 28 days to act. People will also be able to apply after the deadline if they had "reasonable grounds," such as an illness that prevented them from doing it sooner, Foster said.

EU citizens' advocates worry that some people are still unaware they need to apply, while others are caught in a backlog of 400,000 applications that have yet to be processed.

They also want the British government to provide physical, rather than just digital, proof of residents' status. Many fear a repeat of the traumatic experience of thousands of Caribbean immigrants who settled in the U.K. after World War II only to be denied jobs and medical care or even threatened with deportation decades later because they did not have paperwork to prove their right to live in Britain.

Alberto Costa, a lawmaker from Britain's governing Conservative Party who has campaigned on behalf of EU citizens, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had assured him that no eligible resident "will be denied their rights."

"I will do everything in my power to ensure the government honors its promises to those citizens," he said.

Other EU countries have made similar arrangements for the estimated 1 million U.K. citizens who reside there. In some, the right to remain is being granted automatically while in others British citizens have to apply.

Free movement for people among EU member states is a core principle of the bloc, and Britain's 2016 vote to leave was, in part, a reaction to high levels of immigration. More than 1 million EU citizens moved to the U.K after eight formerly communist eastern European countries joined the bloc in 2004.

Scottish FM
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits St Margaret's House on June 23, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The First Minister met EU Citizens who have applied and are applying for the EU Settlement Scheme with help from charities Feniks and Citizens' Rights Project. Andrew Milligan/WPA Pool/Getty Images