Home Office will struggle to cope if there is a post- Brexit rush by EU nationals wanting to stay in Britain, experts have warned.A study by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said that if all European citizens applied for residency it would take 140 years to process the visa forms. At the moment the Home Office deals with 25,500 permanent residence applications a year from EU citizens and their families. The Observatory calculates that if the 3.5 million EU nationals currently living in Britain applied to stay then it would be equivalent of processing 140 years’ worth of forms in just 12 months. Theresa May has indicated the status of European migrants living in the UK will be protected as long as the rights of British citizens living overseas are also safeguarded.
There are fears there could be stampede for residency applications once the date for Brexit has been agreed and free movement of people comes to an end. Depending on how long Brexit negotiations take, the government may need to register EU citizens already living here quite quickly.Given the sheer number of EU citizens who would need to register and the potential complexity of the process, this will be a formidable task.This is an area of law that has not received much attention so far, but it is about to become a lot more important. Around a third of applications are either refused or deemed invalid because they do not include all the right paperwork. With a much larger number of people now in the pipeline, the complexity of the process is likely to come under scrutiny.
While the process could be similar to the current permanent residence application, it is also possible that a different or simpler procedure will be introduced. Meanwhile, the report suggested that if existing rules for registering EU citizens as permanent residents are used as the model for a post-Brexit process, some groups may not qualify despite having lived in the country for several years. While most cases involving people employed in the UK in stable, full-time jobs have the potential to be relatively straightforward, many EU citizens may find themselves in more complex situations. This includes students, self-sufficient people, low earners and the self-employed.
Barbara Roche, chair of the Migration Matters Trust, said the Home Office faced a “huge challenge”.
“Resources are already overstretched, so this is going to be one of the biggest logistical obstacles that the department has ever faced,” she told the Financial Times.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The only circumstances in which rights of the European citizens would not be protected are if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return. We are about to begin these negotiations and it would be wrong to set out further unilateral positions in advance. But there is clearly no mandate for accepting the free movement of people as it has existed up until now.”