The UK’s skills and candidate shortages are likely to be exacerbated by a failure to efficiently process applications to the EU Settlement Scheme, immigration specialists have said.
The Home Office is reported to be working through a large number of applications submitted on paper, which normally take longer than online applications to be resolved. The department said it must check applicants’ identity before issuing them with certificates of application, but many applicants have been waiting for a certificate since before the summer. This is considered to be in breach of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Newspapers and websites have reported over the past month many cases of people being unable to take up employment because of delays with paperwork having applied to the settlement scheme.
The latest quarterly statistics (up to 30 September 2021), show that of the 5.66 million people who have applied, over 5.2 million people have obtained a grant of status.
According to head of immigration at Fieldfisher, Joanna Hunt, inefficient administration of applications to the scheme was a significant “push factor” that would limit the pool of labour available to UK employers.
Right to work and Brexit
She said the number of outstanding applications remained high and the Home Office was working through a backlog. This meant there were still thousands of EU nationals “who may have difficulties demonstrating their right to work in the UK or rent a flat as their applications are undecided”.
She added that the Home Office’s support for applicants had also been criticised, with freedom of information requests revealing that the Home Office’s helpline left nearly 50% of their calls unanswered.
Many EU nationals would still need to negotiate the settlement scheme, Hunt told Personnel Today, either for their family members or for themselves if they needed to apply for settled status. It was therefore “vitally important” that the closure of the scheme to new applicants in late June 2021 did not divert attention and resources away from this route. The service standards needed to remain high, she said, to ensure that EU nationals and their family members were able to secure their long-term residency in the UK.
She added that in the context of skills shortages the settlement scheme bureaucracy had a part to play: “Delays with processing applications and issues with accessing helplines can all add to the sense of frustration many EU applicants feel having to regularise their status when previously they have been able to live and work in the UK free of any restrictions.
“This feeling that they simply are not welcome can certainly be a ‘push’ factor for many EU workers, accelerating plans to relocate from the UK, and reducing the pool of talent employers in the UK can access.”
Hunt said: “The delays with processing can also cause issues for employers who need their workers to have evidence of their right to work in the UK in place quickly so they can start work. This can lead to start dates being pushed back or workers choosing to take up jobs elsewhere. This all exacerbates the skills shortages and recruitment challenges many businesses face.”
The fact that over 300,000 applications under the EU Settlement Scheme remain outstanding is only making the problem worse for businesses” – Chetal Patel, Bates Wells
Chetal Patel, partner in the immigration department at Bates Wells, agreed. She said that given the UK was “in the midst of an acute skills shortages” and businesses were suffering from resignations and employee disruption, “you would think that the government would be making it easier, not more difficult, for companies to hire workers from overseas.
“The fact that over 300,000 applications under the EU Settlement Scheme remain outstanding is only making the problem worse for businesses.”
The Home Office said in the case of paper applications to the Settlement Scheme, a certificate of application would be issued once the application was validated. The department added there should not be a delay as long as all identity documents were provided and caseworkers did not identify any other issues when reviewing the paperwork.
“There have already been more than 5.6 million grants of status under the hugely successful EU Settlement Scheme, which we developed to ensure our EU friends and neighbors could secure the status they need to stay here,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“EU citizens and their family members who were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, and who have a pending application to the EUSS, will continue to be able to travel in and out of the UK whilst their application remains pending.”
A further deadline is approaching on 29 March. Certain family members of British citizens who have been exercising free movement rights in the EEA by 11pm GMT on 31 December 2020 and who have not already returned must enter the UK, with or after their British citizen family member, and make their EUSS application by 11pm BST on 29 March 2022. Any application would also have to be made before the expiry of their EUSS family permit.
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