New guidance from the Home Office says it will no longer block Europeans making late applications for settled status if they were unaware of the Brexit scheme.
But campaigners have warned that most of those who missed a 2021 deadline will still need legal support to make case for settled status – calling on the government to make its guidance more explicit.
The3million campaign group said the Home Office would still expect people to “beg, bend their knee and show remorse for not knowing” about the scheme.
The Home Office said in August it would not allow people to make a late application for the EU Settlement Scheme if they had applied in error for a residency card, or mistakenly relied on a residency card.
The residency cards – no longer valid after a June 2021 deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme – have caused a series of problems for Europeans living in Britain after Brexit.
The 3million group, which advocates for the rights of EU citizens, said people waiting on a decision on settled status have had problems in applying for jobs, moving house and – in some cases – getting in and out of the country.
The Independent has previously spoken to EU nationals who have been held up in airports since Brexit because they have been unable to provide physical proof of their residency in the UK.
Lack of awareness of the EU Settlement Scheme was not considered to be good enough grounds for a late application, the Home Office had said.
But in new guidance published this week, the department says late applications from people with the previously-valid residency cards who were unaware of the rules are now “reasonable grounds” for an application after the deadline.
Andreea Dumitrache, the3million group’s interim co-chief executive, said she was “glad to see this change” after months of pressure. But she warned the guidance for case workers should be much more explicit.
“We’re disappointed the Home Office still does not accept that having an EEA permanent residence card in itself is sufficient evidence for reasonable grounds for applying late.”
She added: “People are also expected to beg, bend their knee and show remorse for not knowing. We are concerned this will lead to only people with access to legal advice to be able to get their application through.”
Ms Dumitrache said most people who have yet to sort out their settled status would likely need legal support in dealing with the Home Office.
And the change only applies to people who were granted permanent residence cards before Brexit, campaigners made clear.
“There are also many others who were not granted these permanent residency cards, may still have rights under the [Brexit] Withdrawal Agreement, and vulnerability has prevented them from making an in time application,” said Ms Dumitrache.
She added: “They are now very likely to be refused, if they do not access legal advice.”
Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland has formally lodged its lawsuit against the UK government in the European Court of Human Rights over its offer of immunity for Troubles-era crimes.
Designed in part to protect former British soldiers from prosecution, the Irish government argued the change in the law is incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Irish premier Leo Varadkar told the BBC he rejected the idea of hypocrisy over the lack of any prosecutions in the Republic of Ireland for Troubles-era violence. And he said his government would be “happy to engage” with the UK authorities on cases.