According to a report published by The Guardian, six million applications made by EU citizens for UK permanent residency doesn’t means that six million EU nationals are currently living in the UK. Workpermit.com recently reported that more than six million EU citizens had applied for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) following the 30 June deadline.
In recent months, Home Office updates on the number of EUSS applications received has sparked speculation that the number of EU citizens living in the UK has been grossly underestimated. Some people on social media have claimed that 9% of the UK’s 67 million population is now made up of Europeans, based on the EUSS application numbers.
However, statisticians at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the University of Oxford Migration Observatory have said that the unusually high number of applications is not a measure of population, and could include millions of applications made from outside of the UK.
The ONS has said that its ‘best estimate’ is still that there are only 3.5 million people from the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) living in the UK – a figure that was closer to the number that gave the EU citizens’ campaign group, the3million, its name back in 2016.
“The number could include millions who do not live in the country who may be taking out an insurance policy against high UK visa fees in the event they want to return to the UK in future,” the ONS said.
One person who reached out to The Guardian said that he had applied simply because his mother was still living in Britain.
In a post on the ONS website, Jay Lindop, the deputy director of the ONS Centre for International Migration, said: “Our latest data, using information from the Annual Population Survey (APS), shows that in mid-2020 there were about 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK, a lot smaller than the 6m applications for the EU Settlement Scheme.”
“The assumption that there are more EU nationals in the UK than previously estimated is based on the belief that the number of people who have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme are all living and working in the UK right now. This is almost certainly not true,” Lindop added.
Settlement Scheme rules
In accordance with the rules of the EU Settlement Scheme, citizens of the EU, plus people from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland who began living or studying in the UK prior to 31 December 2020, could apply.
Applicants living outside of the UK and relying on a historic five-year qualifying period are also eligible to apply, provided that their time living overseas lasted no more than five years. Those in the UK for fewer years could also apply from abroad.
The deputy director of the Migration Observatory, Rob McNeil, said that the scheme had been open for two years and could include many applicants who left the UK amid the coronavirus pandemic, especially since government rules around periods of absence from Britain were relaxed because of COVID-19.
Mr McNeil said: “Anyone who lived here in that time, even for short periods, could apply, as long as their period of absence was within the rules. That doesn’t mean they’re here now or will ever return.”
It’s been suggested that application numbers have been inflated by a number of repeat applications and applications made by non-EU spouses and family members entitled to live in the UK with EU citizens under old EU membership rules.
The ONS said: “Because EU or EEA citizens have never had to register in the UK, the data relies on labour force surveys, passenger surveys and HMRC data, which shows the working population and which will be updated.”
“A more complete picture will not be available until September, when the next labour force survey is published, showing the nationalities of the population,” the ONS added.
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