EU citizens are being urged to apply for settled status rather than the Home Office “pursuing” them, the Home Secretary has said.

Last month, Security Minister Brandon Lewis indicated that EU citizens could be deported if they did not apply by the deadline of December 2020.

Asked on a visit to a school in Kingston, south London, whether the Border Agency would be deployed to pursue those who fail to apply in time, Priti Patel insisted the Home Office is working now to urge people to apply before the deadline.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “It’s not about pursuing people, the fact of the matter is we in the Home Office are working to reach out to over three million people.”

She added: “We’ve already successfully reached out to over 2.4 million, so I’m convinced through the work we’re doing in the Home Office, through outreach schemes, that we will continue to increase that outreach and register those that want to be registered either with pre-settled or settled status depending on how long they’ve been resident in the United Kingdom.

“And I would urge many more of those EU citizens who want to stay in the UK and have been living here and working here to come forward and get settled through the scheme.”

Figures published on Thursday show that up to the end of October 2.4 million have so far applied to the scheme, and more than 1.9 million of those applications have been processed, with 60% granted permission to live permanently in the UK when freedom of movement ends, known as settled status.

Ms Patel said the Home Office is working with 57 “outreach organisations” to encourage more EU citizens to apply through the scheme.

She added: “Of course, we will work with EU citizens based in the UK already. We’ve got a lot of work taking place. I think we’ve now reached something like 2.4 million EU citizens in the UK, which is very good in the light of the fact the scheme was launched … at the end of March this year.

“And we’ve seen the numbers growing at pace and we’ve had some days where 20,000 people have applied and obviously have gone through the system.

“But, of course, we’re working through a range of organisations. Across the country we have 57 outreach organisations, we are engaging with them to go out across the country, to ensure we’re reaching all EU citizens and we have had many communication campaigns as well and they’ve been very successful.

“But, of course, as we get towards December next year – we’re over a year away yet – we will continue to work with people, work with communities, continue to have that dialogue, raise awareness obviously within the EU’s settled community, but also work with individuals if they’ve got particular cases or issues where they are finding it difficult to apply to the scheme.”