EU citizens were yesterday racing to sign up for settled status to allow them to remain in the UK as the deadline approached.
According to the Guardian, more than 50,000 people were rushing to meet the midnight deadline on Wednesday, with the panic so fierce that the Home Office extended the deadline to 09.00 on Thursday.
While British nationals in Belgium have until the end of the year to arrange to pick up their M-card, a new type of identity card allowing them to continue living and working here with a minimum of formalities, the situation in the UK is not the same.
As late as last week, applications from 5.6 million citizens of countries of the EU and the European Economic Area had been submitted for settled or pre-settled status, allowing them to remain in the UK, have access to the National Health Service, work, rent, bank, study and retire.
Wednesday’s rush was being compared to the numbers on the last day of the transition period last year, when 58,000 applications were received. Since then, the daily number has been around 10,000 to 12,000, the Home Office said.
However social media tells a story of upset and confusion, with people trying to register with employment agencies and being refused because their work status is not clear to those agencies.
The same sort of problem is being reported with renting a place to live. Landlords appear to be unsure what constitutes proof of status or how to verify it.
The Home Office said everyone who applied in time – with a postmark of up to midnight on 30 June – would receive a certificate to be used to prove their rights. But it warned of delays while every application is opened and verified before the certificate is issued.
Meanwhile the campaigning group the3million, set up to fight for the rights of EU/EEA citizens in the UK stranded by the 2016 Brexit vote, said they felt people were being treated badly.
“It is good so many have applied before the deadline. And as the3million we’ve fought as hard as we could to make people feel secure and have their rights protected,” said spokesperson Nicolas Hatton.
“But at a webinar last night the feelings being voiced were exactly the same as five years ago, a sense of betrayal and anxiety and an overwhelming feeling that the future is uncertain.”