Home Office removes five-day guidance for EU settlement applications

Department tweaks advice given to those applying for settled or pre-settled status, who are now told that their application is liable to take a month or more to be processed

The Home Office has removed its long-standing advice that those applying to the EU Settlement Scheme can typically expect a wait of five days for their submission to be processed, with applicants now told to expect a wait of a month or more.

The department recently tweaked its online guidance providing information on estimated processing times for EU citizens and their family members applying for settled or pre-settled status – affording them the right to continue to live and work in the UK.

For the vast majority of applicants, the scheme opened for submissions on 30 March 2019. After some early fluctuations, for the second half of that year the estimated processing times stood at “between one and four calendar days”.

From May 2020 onwards, the guidance was amended to advise applicants that “it usually takes around five working days to be processed if no further information is required, but it can take up to a month”.  This projection has remained unchanged for more than three years.

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As of earlier this month, the guidance document was updated for the first time in 39 months. The most striking amendment is the removal of the five-day estimate; applicants are now simply advised that “it may take up to a month for complete applications to be processed if no further information is required”. Some more straightforward cases, however,  “may receive a decision quicker”.

It remains the case that applications where more information or investigation is required are “likely to take longer than a month to process”.

PublicTechnology understands that the Home Office attributes the removal of the long-standing five-day guidance to trends in applications whereby a greater volume are now likely to require more input from the applicant, or further probing from officials – meaning they would take longer to process.

This is subtly exemplified the other minor tweaks to the online advice, which now includes an additional reference to the possibility that caseworkers may ask applicants for greater “evidence relating to [their] residence in the UK”. The guidance also now warns applicants to expect a wait in excess of a month if their “supporting documents need to be verified”.

The indication that waiting times are likely to be longer than was previously the case comes despite a marked drop-off in applications following the passing of the deadline for initial submissions to the scheme on 30 June 2021.

During the early months after the scheme was opened in 2019, more than 800,000 per quarter were submitting applications. Most of these people did so when the projected time for processing stood at one to four days.

Applications reached similar levels during the latter months of 2020 and second quarter of 2021 – as the initial cut-off point neared. During this period, the estimated processing time was one working week.

For each quarter since 30 June 2021, the volume of applications has come int between 150,000 and 200,000. The majority of these are belated or repeat applications – although around 40,000 per quarter are from those applying to join a family member already granted status.

During the first quarter of 2023 – the most recent for which statistics are available – there were 180,980 submissions were made, including more than 70,000 from repeat applicants, alongside about 60,000 from joining family members. The running total of all applications received in the scheme’s lifetime now stands at 7.22 million.

Pre-settled status is given to those that have been resident in the UK for a period of less than five continuous years – the point at which eligibility for full settled status kicks in.

The primary route for applications is via the government’s specially created EU Exit: ID Document Check mobile app. Those unable to use the technology are required to post their identity documents to the Home Office.

Sam Trendall

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