Press release

  • Missing the deadline could be catastrophic for UK businesses, with 20% of some industries reliant on EU nationals
  • Confusion on salary threshold causing delay in applications, and UK Government urged to consider whether ‘deadline should be extended’
  • Support for businesses to guide EU employees launched by The AIRE Centre

Up to a third of UK-based EU nationals are yet to secure their UK settled status, risking the stability of UK businesses.

Over a million Europeans living in the UK haven’t yet secured their status, despite the success rate of applications to date being over 99.9%.In November, of 305,600 EUSS applications, just one was refused on suitability grounds.

Many are thought to be putting off filling in their forms, don’t understand what’s expected of them or are one of 362,000 stuck in the backlog of applications being processed by the Home Office. Of this figure, the vast majority are in employment (83% of 16-65 year olds), and the remaining individuals are thought to be children or other family members.  

The new research, compiled by The AIRE Centre, a legal charity specialising in European Law, reveals the scale of the threat to UK businesses dependent on EU nationals to ensure the smooth running of their operations. The research was presented this evening at a central London event alongside details of support for businesses wishing to maintain their workforce.

EU nationals make up seven per cent of the UK labour market, with key sectors of British business reliant on their contribution. Industries centred around low-skilled factory and construction jobs are particularly dependent on EU workers, with 21 per cent of the workforce born outside of the UK in wider Europe. Retail and manufacturing will be particularly hard hit, with 50% of all EU nationals working in these industries (26% retail, 24% manufacturing).

There is no salary threshold to apply for settled status in the UK, however, if the EUSS deadline is missed by lower-paid EU workers, it is predicted they may not be permitted to settle in the UK ever again, which could be catastrophic for business and these individuals. More than 75 per cent of EU nationals from newer member states earn less than £28,000 and a large proportion of EU nationals from these areas earn the lowest of all UK employed nationalities, with a median earning of £21,000 per year.  

Matthew Evans, director at The AIRE Centre said: “The future salary threshold for EU nationals coming to work in post-Brexit Britain has been well publicised at a possible £30,000. For many, their income will fall below this level and understandably, they are worried about completing their applications for fear of being rejected. It is vital we debunk this myth, and employers take action to ensure their workers are guided through the EUSS process to secure the status and rights that they are eligible for and to prevent disruption to business operations.”

The deadline for applying for settled status is 30 June 2021, but if the UK leaves the EU without a deal this month, it will affect those seeking ‘pre-settled status’.  Any future EU employees will need to be living in the UK before it leaves the EU to apply, potentially leaving just 16 days for them to arrive in the UK. Of those who have applied already, 41% were granted ‘pre-settled status’ only, meaning their long-term ability to work in the UK is less certain, lasting a guaranteed five years only. With the future pipeline of EU workers at risk, it is even more vital that UK businesses hold on to their current workforce, particularly as individuals from EU nations are likely to be over-qualified for the roles they have in the UK.

Madeleine Sumption, director at the Migration Observatory, University of Oxford who provided the labour market data to The AIRE Centre said: “EU workers are employed right across the UK labour market, from science and research positions to low-wage factory jobs. More than half of highly educated workers born in new EU member states were in low and medium low-skilled jobs in 2018. This means they are more likely to work in jobs for which they are over-qualified, one of the reasons EU citizens have been so attractive to UK employers. A range of industries have become quite dependent on this workforce.  


“The government faces a big challenge getting all EU citizens through the Settlement Scheme. Regardless of how easy it is to apply and how well the scheme is communicated, there will inevitably be people who simply don’t realise that they have to do it. This challenge is compounded by the fact that there are no accurate figures on how many people are eligible to apply: the most commonly used estimate of 3.4 million is almost certainly too low. So it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of EU citizens could fail to apply without this being clear from the data. One of the big questions for the next couple of years will therefore be whether the deadline is extended or, as some have suggested, removed entirely.”


EU-born workers are far more likely to work some type of shift work. Seven per cent work night shifts and 17 per cent some other type of shift work– a far higher proportion than those who are UK born.


A significant share (8%) also take on non-permanent roles in comparison to their UK counterparts (5%), and are more likely than UK employees to take zero hours contracts  (3% v 2%), evidencing the flexibility the workforce provides UK industries.


Matthew Evans concluded: “The contribution EU workers make to the UK economy and to business is unquestioned, but many are put off by the red tape and complicated process. Businesses need to take action now, and failing to do this is tantamount to ignoring a ticking time-bomb on a boardroom table.”


The AIRE Centre, which has been protecting human rights using EU and European law for over 25 years, has launched a range of support packages for employers for the first time, including training for HR professionals and one-to-one workshops for more complex cases. The support will ensure that businesses can retain their experienced staff to ensure the continuation of business as well as protect its workforce from becoming undocumented, and falling prey to forced labour gangs. For more information about the packages on offer please go to  contact Yvonne Williams at [email protected] or +44 20 7831 4276.