Different legislation applies to those who were settled in the UK prior to 1st January 1973 – when the Immigration Act 1971 came in to force - and EU citizens seeking confirmation of permanent residence. Under the EU Free Movement Directive, EU citizens and their family members automatically attain permanent residence having exercised free movement rights for a continuous period of five years in the UK. If they wish to document this they can apply for a permanent residence document.
A non-EU national with settled status, including those settled here on 1 January 1973, is able to apply for this to be confirmed in a biometric residence permit. To do so they must be able to show they have acquired settled status and that they have continued to reside in the UK so as not to lose that status.
No estimate has been made of how many of those who arrived prior to the 1971 Act’s commencement are unable to evidence their status in the UK. However, the majority of people making such applications are able to provide the documentation required to demonstrate their legal status in the UK. Where someone struggles to provide documents, efforts are made to assist them to demonstrate their continued residence, such as working with other government departments to establish this. We have not received any official representations from Commonwealth countries about their citizens who claim to be settled under the 1971 Act but have been subject to removal action.
We expect those with no legal right to remain here to leave and we provide a number of assistance programmes to support them to return. We will seek to enforce the return of anyone with no right to remain who refuses to leave voluntarily. However, we do operate a stateless leave policy for those who are unable to return to their country of former habitual residence because they are stateless and have no right to reside in any other country.
The Home Office publishes data on returns by destination as part of the quarterly Immigration statistics release. The data does not break these down by the date an individual claims to have arrived the UK.