41,000 EU nationals in Luton gain settled status - just weeks to go before Brexit 'cliff-edge' date
Around 41,000 EU nationals have been granted permission to continue living in Luton ahead of this month's application deadline, figures show.
A research hub at York University warns that many people across the UK will miss the fast-approaching post-Brexit "cliff-edge" of June 30.
If EU nationals do not apply before that date, they risk becoming illegal migrants overnight.
Around 41,000 people successfully applied to the EU settlement scheme in Luton by the end of March, according to Home Office figures.
The figure is one of the highest in the eastern region, overtaking nearby Milton Keynes (32,810), Bedford (20,860) and St Albans (8,540).
EU citizens who have lived in the UK for at least five years and meet certain criteria, can receive settled status and remain indefinitely if they apply by June 30.
Those who have lived in the country for less time can obtain pre-settled status, and the chance to reapply for settled status once they have done so for five years.
In Luton, 20,050 applications had been granted settled status by March 31, and 20,960 pre-settled status.
The highest number of applications in Luton were submitted by people from Romania (13,220), followed by those from Poland (11,180) and Italy (4,740).
Some 1,880 applications were either refused, withdrawn or deemed invalid.
The EU Rights and Brexit Hub, a legal research facility at York University, say this month's hard deadline is not necessary, and represents an "imminent timebomb".
Professor Charlotte O'Brien said: "The universal rule of deadlines is that people will miss them.
"Those who miss the deadline will become, overnight, unauthorised or illegal migrants, subject to a hostile environment and possible removal.
"It means they will go from being lawful, in many cases long-term and economically contributing EU citizens, to people who cannot lawfully work, rent, or even drive a car."
She added that guidance for caseworkers dealing with late requests was not sufficiently clear and may trigger a "late application lottery".
Across the UK, 385,000 people applied to the EUSS between January and March – down from 855,000 in the three months to December, and 713,000 during the first three months of last year.