The UK Government has been urged to extend the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme, amid growing concerns thousands of European citizens are yet to secure their futures here.

EU citizens living in the UK can apply to the scheme and guarantee their continued rights to stay and work here. People living here continuously for the past five years can apply for 'settled' status, while anyone else living here before the end of 2020 but for a period of less than five years can secure 'pre-settled' status.

The deadline for applications is June 30, but there are fears some 7,000 people who are eligible for the scheme have not yet applied despite continued promotion and support from government and charities at both a Welsh- and UK level.

Jane Hutt, the social justice minister, told the Senedd some EU citizens may still be unaware that they need to apply to the scheme, while others who have children here may not have realised they also need to complete applications for their eligible family members.

There may be "digital barriers" to completing the applications, Hutt added, while the Senedd also heard of reports that coronavirus travel restrictions had made it difficult for some EU citizens to obtain the necessary paperwork.

The matter is further complicated because the number of outstanding applicants is unknown, the minister said, telling the Senedd "we still don't know the scale of the challenge that remains".

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While the UK Government had originally estimated there were around 70,000 eligible EU/EEA citizens in Wales, more recent estimates by Welsh councils puts the figure at 95,000 people.

So far, the Home Office has received nearly 90,000 applications from EU residents in Wales, of whom 98 per cent have been awarded either settled- or pre-settled status.

Conservative MS Mark Isherwood told the Senedd the scheme had been "hugely successful" and anyone who applied before June 30 but had not received a decision by then "will have their rights protected until their application is decided".

Hutt noted that Westminster had updated its guidance "following repeated calls from Welsh ministers" to make provisions for more complex applications and to give caseworkers the discretion to accept late applications "on reasonable grounds".

"As much as I welcome this sign of flexibility, I do not feel the allowances go far enough and I will continue to urge the UK government to show maximum flexibility post-June 2021," she said.

"We feel that the deadline, the EUSS application deadline itself, should be extended to ensure that, come 30 June, we're not left with EU citizens who haven't been able to make that application, and to recognise that they are in very challenging times," she added.

Further information on the settlement scheme can be found on the Welsh Government's website here, and several organisations in Wales – Newfields Law, Settled, and Citizens Advice Cymru – are providing support for applicants.

The UK Government has been contacted for comment.

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