A Home Office minister has warned European Union citizens could be deported if they do not apply for settled status by the end of next year.
Conservative MP Brandon Lewis said they may be forced to leave the UK, even if they met all the requirements for a residence permit.
“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,” he said.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Mr Lewis’s comments were “deeply troubling” for EU citizens.
“Threats by ministers that EU nationals could be deported are a complete breach of all the assurances that the government has made,” she said.
The Home Office said those with “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline would be granted an extension; however it did not elaborate on what those circumstances might be.
It said more than two million people had applied for settled status so far, leaving a further two million citizens needing to apply before December 2020.
Spokeswoman for EU citizen campaign group the3million, Maike Bohn, said the government had threatened to remove people from their homes.
“That is the grim reality of the UK Government's position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase ‘EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay’,” she said.
In a later tweet, Mr Lewis said his words had been “somewhat taken out of context” and the Home Office has always said it will “allow time for those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline”.