Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield pressed Ministers yesterday over the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) as campaigners claimed the law should be changed to automatically protect the rights of EU citizens and their families who continue to live in the UK.
According to charities and campaign groups, a "tweak" to legislation is needed to ensure they do not face discrimination at work, in getting housing, accessing healthcare and benefits after the deadline to apply for post-Brexit residency under EUSS passes on June 30.
EU citizens and their families have been asked to apply to the Home Office scheme by the end of the month to confirm their immigration status in order to continue living and working in the UK now the Brexit transition period and freedom of movement has ended.
Despite calls for an extension to the scheme amid delays and difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic - and while there is a backlog of around 400,000 cases awaiting a decision - the Government has insisted this will not happen.
In the Commons yesterday, Labour's Shadow Brexit Minister Mr Blomfield called on Immigration Minister Kevin Foster to extend the EUSS deadline "before it’s too late, and we risk a Windrush-style scandal due to a lack of knowledge about the scheme because of the Government’s insufficient communication about it during the news-saturated pandemic, and support for those who may have difficulty applying”.
He also raised concerns over groups such as children in care, older and disabled people, and survivors of domestic abuse being left without status, meaning they would become undocumented migrants overnight.
Conservative Mr Foster has previously said an extension is not a "solution" but the Government has confirmed that anyone who applies by the deadline will have their existing rights protected, subject to the decision and any appeal.
The Labour MP also asked about those who make a late application on “reasonable grounds” as permitted by the Home Office. He said officials have confirmed that they will have no immigration status while they wait for their application to be concluded and that these cases are more likely to be complex and therefore applications could take a long time to be processed.
He said: “In the meantime, Ministers must provide information on what is being done to ensure that this temporary lack of status does not stop their access to benefits, to medical care, to housing or to employment in the UK.”
Mr Foster told the Commons yesterday that as at the end of last month, more than 5.6 million applications have been received by the scheme, with more than 5.2 million concluded.
He said: "As these numbers demonstrate the dire warnings about our willingness to deliver an effective scheme to safeguard the position of millions of our friends and neighbours have proven totally unfounded.
"Today, I invite all honourable and Right Honourable members to play their part in communicating tomorrow's deadline, and encouraging those who are eligible, but have yet to apply to do so now.
"The Government is mounting a massive public information campaign to raise awareness about the scheme, investing almost £8 million in communications encouraging eligible EU citizens and their family members to apply by the deadline.
"We've also made extensive support available to applicants who need it, including providing £22 million in grant funding organisations who have helped over 300,000 people to apply for the status they deserve so far."
He added: "While the deadline is tomorrow, we will take a pragmatic, flexible approach to considering late applications made after the deadline."
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that, after the deadline, questions will remain over whether it is "politically desirable or logistically possible" to remove people from the country.
"On July 1, nothing will look that different," she said. "It may be a gradual process of people realising, in some cases probably after a number of years, they do not have status when something happens to demonstrate it."
More than five million people have applied to the scheme, with tens of thousands of applications still be submitted each day. But it is ultimately not known how many are eligible and could remain in the country undocumented.