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Government data are not good enough to understand whether the EU Settlement Scheme is doing its job

16 Apr 2020

The government has committed to giving all EU citizens currently living in the UK a secure status allowing them to remain in the UK as legal residents – but without significant investments in new official data, there will be no way of verifying whether it is reaching this goal, a new report from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reveals today. 

The report Not Settled Yet? shows that the official estimate of 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK is not a good guide to the numbers of people eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The actual figure could be considerably higher, but at this stage it is not possible to say by how much. This means that when the deadline for applications arrives, it may be impossible to know how many people are set to lose their legal status and become irregular migrants because they did not apply. 

The report also notes the implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic on the EU Settlement Scheme, including a reduction in outreach capacity to vulnerable EU citizens most likely to be among those who fail to apply, and the disruption of official data collection on which EU citizen population estimates rely. 

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory and author of the report said: “The government has invested a lot of effort in making the EU Settlement Scheme easy to use, but with any scheme of this size it is inevitable that some people will fall through the cracks. It will be very hard to know to what extent this has happened, without a parallel investment in new data. 

“For a host of reasons, it’s possible that the number of EU citizens granted status through the scheme could greatly exceed the current official estimate of 3.4 million but that wouldn’t necessarily mean the task is finished. Any discussion about whether to extend or drop the deadline next year will have to take place without a clear picture of how many people have not yet applied.” 

The report identifies possibilities for developing data to measure directly the numbers and characteristics of people who have not secured status, including by linking administrative data sources together. 

It notes that official estimates of the EU citizen population in the UK exclude or undercount several groups of people, including those in dormitories, care homes or caravan parks. At the same time, Home Office figures will be inflated by an unknown number of people who applied for status but then emigrated from the UK. 

Official face-to-face surveys have been suspended during the COVID 19 crisis, which will reduce the quality of data on the UK’s EU migrant population for 2020—although it is too early to assess how the current crisis will affect migration statistics in the medium term. 

Sumption added: “While the EU Settlement Scheme is in some respects less exposed to the coronavirus crisis than other parts of the immigration system that rely more heavily on face-to-face contact, COVID-19 nonetheless has important implications for the scheme. That includes lower capacity for supporting vulnerable EU citizens, including those most likely to be poorly measured in official statistics. It also remains to be seen how much the quality of the data on EU citizens in the UK will suffer as a result of the pandemic.” 


  • This report was produced with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. 

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