Flawed EU settlement scheme could create illegal migrants says High Court

The UK scheme to settle millions of EU citizens risks creating illegal migrants overnight and is unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

In a highly critical judgment on 21 December 2022, the court said the scheme breached the UK’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The watchdog for EU citizen’s rights argued the scheme could strip people of rights if they do not register in time.

The Home Office said EU citizens are friends with clear protections and it will challenge the ruling.

Since 2018, the Home Office has run a two-stage process for EU citizens who wanted to remain in the UK.

This scheme was set up because the EU’s freedom of movement principle had meant many people from within the block had never needed permission to be in the UK under immigration laws that apply to other parts of the world.

Under the scheme, at least 2.7 million people currently have “pre-settled status”.

This is a limited right to live and work in the UK and it expires if they do not re-apply for full settled status after five years.

Some 200,000 people who were part of the scheme’s pilot in 2018 must register for full settled status by August 2023 – or they could lose their legal rights.

The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), the post-Brexit watchdog for EU citizens’ rights, challenged these arrangements in the High Court, saying ministers were breaking the legal promises they had given to the European Union.

It argued huge numbers of people could become illegal immigrants overnight if they did not apply for the second stage on time.

That would mean they would lose their right to live, work or study and their access to health services.

The IMA understands that the Home Office is seeking permission to appeal the decision. While that process continues, no changes to the current design of the EU Settlement Scheme are expected and therefore holders of pre-settled status should continue to apply for settled status where they are eligible.

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