EU citizens in the UK will be issued with a 28-day ultimatum to keep their rights if they miss next week’s deadline to apply to stay after Brexit.
Immigration Enforcement will hand people it finds to have missed the June 30 cut-off a ’28-day notice’ to apply late to the EU settlement scheme.
If they do not file their application after 28 days, they risk losing their right to rent or work in the UK, or having benefits and free NHS care cut off.
EU citizens who fail to apply will also not be able to take up a new job or rent a new flat from July 1 until they do.
Immigration Minister Kevin Foster said the notices will advise EU citizens to “take urgent action to establish their lawful status”.
Those receiving warnings could include EU citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for decades.
They could be identified if their work receives an immigration inspection, or if they have contact with benefits officials.
Ms Foster added: “We are taking a proportionate and pragmatic approach to the operation of compliant environment measures.”
The last-ditch lifeline is announced today after No10 refused to extend the June 30 deadline, despite fears thousands are yet to apply.
Campaigners have warned Britain could see a new Windrush-style scandal over the EU Settlement Scheme, set up due to Brexit.
EU nationals who came to the UK before January 1 can apply for ‘settled status’ or, if they have less than five years residence, ‘pre-settled status’.
Leaked documents claimed 130,000 of the 820,000 European benefit claimants living in the UK had not yet applied for settled status by May 31.
But Mr Foster said: “Extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied.
“We would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again.”
The government insists no EU citizens will see their residence rights, benefits or access to the NHS cut back while their application is in progress.
EU citizens are being urged to get their application in before next Wednesday, as only those with “reasonable grounds” will be able to apply late.
Those who apply by June 30 will also now be issued a “Certificate of Application” which they can show to immigration officials.
Mr Foster insisted the settlement scheme – to which almost 5million EU citizens have applied – was a “genuine success”.
He said it had been open for 815 days – longer than equivalent schemes for UK nationals to stay in France, Sweden, Belgium or Romania.
But it is a far cry from Boris Johnson ’s 2016 claim that EU citizens would “automatically” be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
And Mr Foster admitted the remaining cases are “more complex”, including people who cannot be verified by automated checks.
Officials also do not know exactly how many EU citizens there are in the UK, after underestimating the number by around a million before Brexit.
Downing Street insisted only a “small minority” are yet to come forward, but the exact number is not known.
Officials sent 250,000 letters to EU citizens who claim UK benefits at the end of May and will run a similar exercise after the June 30 deadline.
Mr Foster said: “The Home Office will write to them, giving a further 28 days to apply to the EUSS, after which we will notify DWP and HMRC of those who have still not applied.
“Those departments will then make a casework decision based on the circumstances of the case.”
Those with reasonable grounds could include elderly people who arrived in Britain before the EU was created and are relying on old documents.
Children in care and people with mental capacity issues would also have reasonable grounds, along with those with a serious illness.
The UK must keep the process for late applications open indefinitely, even if people only discover they needed to apply in 10 or 20 years’ time.
EU citizens with pre-settled or settled status will no longer be able to rely on their passport or ID card for proof they can live and work in the UK from July 1.
Instead they will need to log in to view their status online and generate a “share code” to show landlords or employers – who face hefty fines for hiring someone without the right status.
EU citizens can however travel into the UK using their passport or ID card.
Mr Foster slammed unnamed EU countries for causing “disruption” to UK nationals who were applying to stay on the Continent.
“There have been a number of reported instances of UK nationals in the EU being asked for residence documents they do not need to hold, being prevented from accessing benefits and services, and having trouble with their right to work,” he admitted.
“We are raising instances of misapplication with the EU and Member States involved and holding them to account for their actions.
“We fully expect the EU to uphold their obligations on citizens’ rights, just as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK.”