Immigration minister Kevin Foster said more than six million applications have been made by European citizens who wish to remain in the UK post-Brexit, and there are “just under 6,000” cases that “have been outstanding for over a year”.
He said the “backlog in the courts” caused by the coronavirus pandemic was part of the reason for the problem because if someone had charges pending, a final decision on whether they could stay cannot be made until the criminal case has been resolved.
Mr Foster said the Home Office has 1,500 staff currently dealing with applications.
While Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “utterly heartbroken” that EU citizens have been required to apply to remain in the country legally, Mr Foster said the Windrush scandal had shown it was important for people to be able to prove their immigration status.
By the time the EU settled status scheme closed for applications at the end of last month, more than six million people had sought permission to remain in the UK, including 291,200 applications from Scotland.
Mr Foster, speaking to journalists on Wednesday during a visit to Linlithgow in West Lothian, said: “We did receive a very large number across the UK before the deadline, hitting the six million mark.
“We are working through them, we are getting through thousands every day. We have 1,500 staff working on the decision-making process and we do expect to clear the vast majority of applications within three months of them being made.”
However, Mr Foster added: “In the overall system there are just under 6,000 that have been outstanding for over a year.
“The vast majority of them relate to either criminal records, where deportation is being considered based on criminality, or where there are pending prosecutions, where given the backlogs in the courts we can’t realistically take a decision until the matter that they are either under investigation for or have been charged with is resolved, because it is a matter to the level where it would affect their immigration status if they were convicted and it would obviously be unfair to take a decision based on that information if they were later to be acquitted.
“The key lesson we have learned from the Windrush era was that granting a status, via an act of Parliament, with no record taken, no way of proving it, then many years later having to try to prove where you lived many decades before, is a route to problems and would cause uncertainty.
“That’s why we have had a simplified process. We recognise this is something that would potentially cover millions of people, so that’s why we made it simple, prove you are an EEA [European Economic Area] national, prove you were resident … and then just declare if you have got criminal convictions.
“We kept it simple so people could apply and we have seen millions do so, and we are delighted that so many people have applied to get the status they deserve and want to continue living in the United Kingdom.”