EU citizens will not automatically be deported if they fail to sign up to the settled status scheme by the 2021 deadline, Downing Street has said.
The confirmation comes after European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said he had been given the assurance by the UK government.
Under the settlement scheme, EU citizens living in the UK can apply to stay in the country after Brexit.
So far the number of applicants to the scheme has hit more than 2.7 million.
Nearly 2.5 million EU citizens have been told they can live and work in the UK after Brexit, while six “serious or persistent” criminals have had their applications rejected.
The deadline for applying to the scheme is 30 June 2021.
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Mr Verhofstadt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he believed those who missed the deadline would still be able to apply for settled status after “giving grounds why it was not possible to do it within the normal procedures”.
“There will be no automatic deportation,” he added.
In October last year, Home Office minister Brandon Lewis told German newspaper Die Welt: “If EU citizens until this point of time have not registered and have no adequate reason for it, then the valid immigration rules will be applied.”
When pressed on whether that would include those who met the legal requirements for residence but did not apply by the deadline, he replied: “Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
But on Friday Mr Lewis said deporting EU citizens who have not applied for settled status “is not what we’re about”.
In an interview for the BBC’s Politics East programme, to be shown on Sunday, he said his focus was on encouraging people to apply now.
Mr Lewis added: “At the end of June 2021, if people haven’t applied and they’ve got good reason for that, we’ll be looking at that and we’ll be looking to grant status.
“But I don’t want to get to that place. I want people to apply now.”
When asked if police could be knocking on people’s in June next year and escorting them out of the country if they have not applied, he said: “That is not what we’re about, we’re saying to people who have made their home here, ‘we value you we want you to stay.'”
Mr Verhofstadt told Today he had been told that the UK government was looking at the possibility of EU citizens being able to print out documentary proof of their status.
Responding to his comments, the Home Office said: “There is no change to our digital approach. It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can’t be used as evidence of status.”
It added: “The EU settlement scheme grants people with a secure, digital status which future-proofs their rights. Physical documents can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with.”
Mr Verhofstadt also said the possibility had been raised of EU citizens sitting on the independent monitoring authority that will be in place to oversee citizens’ rights.
Asked whether he thought the UK could ever rejoin the EU in the future, Mr Verhofstadt said he thought it would eventually happen but “difficult to say when”.
“There will be a young generation who will say, ‘What have we done? We want to go back,'” he added.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan praised the UK government’s handling of the issue of citizens’ rights, saying: “A system is now up and running, and it is by far the most effective and the most generous in any of the EU countries.
“I don’t think you will find a single state among the [other] 27 [EU states] that has a system in place to grant rights to established UK nationals that is working as generously and without any cost to the people concerned, as ours is in return.”