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750,000 EU nationals seek UK residence

London

BRITAIN has received 750,000 applications from EU citizens seeking to settle in the UK in the first four months of 2019, with Poles leading the way, official data showed on Thursday.

The government's scheme for offering an estimated 3.8 million EU nationals the right to live permanently in Britain after Brexit has been riddled with controversy.

Responding to a public outcry, Prime Minister Theresa May in January scrapped a £65 (S$113) fee that would have been imposed had a so-called "no-deal Brexit" gone into effect.

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The programme's status has been weighed further by uncertainties over when - or even if - Britain pulls out of the EU.

The UK interior ministry said that 103,000 Polish citizens had applied for permanent residence in the first four months of the year.

Romanians filed 90,000 applications and Italians 71,000, the figures showed. Portugal and Spain rounded out the top five.

The scheme is being overseen by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who is one of 11 declared candidates in the race to succeed Mrs May as prime minister in July.

"EU citizens are our friends, neighbours and colleagues who contribute so much to this country. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, we want them to stay," Mr Javid said in a statement. "Our free and straightforward EU Settlement Scheme has already seen 750,000 applications - which is immensely encouraging. I hope this early success continues in the coming months."

Economic worries and a desire to limit migration - particularly from eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania - was one of the factors that pushed voters to back Brexit in 2016. AFP