More than 9,000 European nationals living in Stoke-on-Trent have so far applied to stay in the UK.
Under the EU Settlement Scheme, anyone who is resident in the UK under EU law, along with their families, can apply to protect their residence here after the Brexit transition period has ended.
The latest figures show the scheme has had 9,360 applications from Stoke-on-Trent residents so far.
More than a quarter of these – 2,540 – have come from Romanian citizens, the largest group of applicants. Polish citizens make up the second largest group, with 1,710 applications, while another 1,120 have come from Italian nationals, the third largest.
By the end of December, 8,130 applications had been processed, with 3,680 being given settled status, and 4,400 pre-settled status. Another 50 applications had ‘other outcomes’.
Settled status is awarded to applicants who have been living in the UK for at least five years, and means they can stay here for as long as they like. People with settled status are also entitled to claim UK benefits.
Pre-settled status is given to people who have been here for less than five years. They can stay for five years under the scheme, and once they have been here for five years in total, they can apply for settled status.
Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire CAB has been providing assistance to EU citizens going through the application process.
Chief executive Simon Harris says there have been concerns over the number of people being given pre-settled, as opposed to settled status.
He said: “There are various reasons why more people are being given pre-settled rather than settled status.
“It may be they don’t have the required residency – our understanding is the Home Office looks at how long an applicant has been making National Insurance contributions, which may or may not be an accurate way of working out how long someone has been living here.
“It may also be that the applicant is missing some information which they need to give to be given settled status.
“The Home Office has funded services to help vulnerable people through the application process, but for some reason the service for the West Midlands region doesn’t want to come to Stoke-on-Trent. We’ve contacted them several times but they don’t see Stoke-on-Trent as being part of their area.
“Another issue is that applicants need to travel to Trafford or Sandwell for the biometrics service, if they don’t have the right Android mobile phone to do it themselves. We’ve had to get our own Android phone for people to use.
“The problem is the people who will be most in need of support will be the hardest to reach. This has the potential to be a similar problem to Windrush.”
Katie Sitko and Agie Biernat, who run the award-winning Agie and Katie’s Restaurant in Burslem, have been among the applicants facing issues with the scheme – despite the fact both moved to the UK from Poland more than a decade ago.
Agie said: “All our staff including ourselves have been through the process. It wasn’t complicated, and was well explained step-by-step. However, the criteria for getting settled status are not clear.
“Myself and Katie have been living in the UK for over 13 years, working full-time since the first day. I’ve finished Staffordshire University, my nine-year-old daughter was born here and we have not received the status.
“We have been asked to send additional documents, from 2013 which might be hard to find. We have to prove we were here at that time.”
There have been 1,540 applications to the scheme from Newcastle-under-Lyme residents, 420 from Staffordshire Moorlands, 2,120 from Stafford borough and 8,680 from Cheshire East.
Last year it was estimated 13,000 people in Stoke-on-Trent would be required to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, suggesting around one-third have yet to do so, or have chosen not to stay in the UK.
The scheme opened in March 2019 and is set to close on June 20, 2021. Applicants can appeal to the immigration tribunal if they have been refused settled or pre-settled status.