What Will Happen to Britain’s EU Nationals after Brexit?


Not everyone is able to seek recourse from their MP or the Home Office. Adam Horvath, a Hungarian national who has lived in Britain for eight years, told me he ran into issues with his application in June when he was offered pre-settled status and unintentionally accepted it. “After I realized my mistake, I gave [the Home Office] a call right away,” Horvath said, at which point he was informed that his status could not be changed manually. His only option was to wait 70 days, at which time, he was told, his inactive application would be deleted automatically. Then he could start again.

To be safe, Horvath waited three months. But when he logged back on to the system, his existing application—and the pre-settled-status designation—was still there. “So I called again,” he said, and was advised that the system had changed and that he would be better off withdrawing the application and starting again. A week later, he said, he received a phone call advising him that withdrawals can take several weeks or even months, and that officials would instead attach a note to his existing application explaining the situation and asking that the caseworker reviewing it consider him for settled status. In the interim, Horvath was asked to submit further documentation to prove his years spent in the country.

“So I did that,” he said. “About four or five days after that, I was granted pre-settled status, despite putting all the evidence that proves I’ve been in this country for eight years.”

Horvath’s story isn’t uncommon. Many applicants, including Horvath, have gaps in their employment history, which makes it difficult for the government to register how long they’ve lived in the country, and some EU nationals have mistakenly accepted an incorrect status—with limited recourse to amend the error.

Some advocates for EU nationals are concerned that perhaps there are more applicants erroneously being granted pre-settled status who are eligible for a permanent status instead. Those worries are compounded by the fact that no one really knows how many EU nationals are in the country (the 3.5 million figure is only an estimate). As a result, “it’s very unclear what success will look like,” Maike Bohn, a co-founder of the3million, an advocacy group for EU citizens in the U.K., told reporters in London this month. “The big worry and the elephant in the room is that hundreds of thousands of people will not apply and be successful by the deadline.”

The deadline by which EU nationals have to apply for their new status largely depends on the outcome of Brexit itself. Should Britain leave the bloc with a withdrawal agreement, EU nationals will have until June 2021 to apply; if the country exits without a deal, that deadline moves up to the end of December 2020. EU nationals have been warned that those who fail to secure a status by then could be subject to removal from the country—an outcome that Luke Piper, an immigration lawyer and legal adviser for the3million, said could pose a “monumental risk” for the most vulnerable among them, including the elderly, those with limited English, and children. (Home Office Minister Brandon Lewis has said that the government will “allow time for those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline.”)

When I asked Horvath whether he has contacted the Home Office since, he said he has not. Between a full-time master’s program in mechanical engineering and a part-time job, he hasn’t had the time. But he isn’t discouraged either. “When you have a big project where you try to register 3 million people, it is inevitable that people will fall through the cracks,” he said, “so I think I’m one of those people.”

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Yasmeen Serhan is a London-based staff writer at The Atlantic.


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