Nobody wants to see a repeat of the distressing Windrush scandal. British citizens of West Indian origin were deported because they had no paperwork to prove their entitlement to stay, the Home Office having destroyed it between 2010 and 2013. Yet, this is what we risk if people with citizenship of any EU or EEA country, or of Switzerland, and their family members, resident in the UK before December 31, 2020, do not apply for EU Settled Status (EUSS) before June 30, 2021. (See the government’s website for a detailed explanation of who must apply.)
As The 3 Million (a leading grassroots group representing EU citizens in the UK) concluded in their recent report to the Independent Monitoring Authority, “The consequences for those without status after 1 July 2021 will be serious. People will be faced with the full force of the Government’s hostile environment policy, including potential loss of employment, loss of their homes, loss of entitlement to NHS treatment and far more.”
EUSS is a UK immigration status within the category called ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’. To be eligible, EU, EEA or Swiss citizens their family members must have been resident in the UK by December 31, 2020, have lived in the UK for 5 years (barring permitted absences) and have no serious criminal record. Those who have lived in the UK for less than 5 years can obtain ‘pre-settled status’, which can be upgraded to EUSS once they reach the 5-year threshold.
The difference between the two statuses is one of rights. While EUSS is permanent and holders never need to re-apply, opens a pathway to UK citizenship after one year of being granted and entitles the holder to enjoy equal residency, work, healthcare and welfare rights to those of British citizens, the same is not true of pre-settled status. The latter is valid for five years, can be revoked, is not a basis for citizenship and only entitles the holder to welfare benefits if they can prove they have a ‘right to reside’ under EEA Regulations. Those who cannot prove this will have no access to welfare in the event of ill health, unemployment or domestic abuse, for example.
There is a growing concern that some people who should apply for EUSS may not be aware that they need to do so. The law has backward reach well beyond 1992 when Freedom of Movement was introduced in the EU, and even beyond 1973 when the UK joined the EEC (the precursor to the EU). Citizens of the relevant countries who arrived in Britain before 1973, also need to apply, if they do not have indefinite leave to remain. There is a risk that people who have lived here, loved here, worked here, retired here and contributed to our country for the majority of their adult life could become ‘illegal’ if they do not realise that they too must apply for settled status.
There are other vulnerable groups besides the aged that we should be concerned about, in particular, those with mental health issues, children in care and those like victims of human trafficking who have discretionary right to remain. Also, those who want to apply, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, have been unable to do so, for example, because they have no scanner and there is no scanning facility in their area that is open, or their national documents are about to expire and their consulates are not open for the in-person appointments necessary to renew them.
Children in care and care leavers (i.e. those children who were in care and have now left the system) are a microcosm of the problems of reaching all those who need to apply. Government does not know the total number of individuals who should apply, as unlike in the countries in question, the UK did not require EU/EEA/Swiss citizens to register. Original estimates of EU/EEA/Swiss citizens in the UK were 3.3 million, but just the other day Michael Gove was boasting that applications had passed the 5 million mark. Similarly, the Home Office estimated there were 5,000 children in care and 4,000 care leavers who needed to apply for settled status. A survey of 210 care homes in October 2020, with a 94 per cent response rate, identified 3,220 looked after children and care leavers. At that time, only 46 per cent had applied for EUSS or pre-settled status, and only 65 per cent of those applications had been decided.
Digging into the figures a little deeper, of the 2,060 looked after children identified by the survey where there was a court order in place in respect of the child, e.g. a care order, interim care order, or adoption placement order, and the local authority had parental responsibility for the child, 860 (42 per cent) had already had an application to the EUSS made by the local authority. Of these applications, 510 (59 per cent) had been decided, of which 420 (82 per cent) had resulted in a grant of settled status and 90 (18 per cent) in a grant of pre-settled status.
With all the additional responsibilities local authorities have had, and still have, dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, you would think it would be a no-brainer to extend the EUSS application deadline so that ‘no child is left behind’. But no. Members of the House of Lords have gained majority support for amendments to government legislation on various occasions, to afford additional protections to children in care and care leavers, to extend deadlines, and provide a physical document as proof of EUSS to avoid a Windrush situation. Despite these laudable efforts, and those of MPs who have voted for the amendments in the Commons, the Government has defeated every single attempt to inject compassion and common sense into the system.
The British people are by and large humane, charitable and warm-hearted, so shame on those Tory MPs who have not found the courage to go against the whip and vote in the way the vast majority of the public would wish them to. They have voted against British values.
It is salutary at this point to remember that in the run-up to the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the official ‘Leave’ campaign, VoteLeave, the leading members of which are now either the Prime Minister, a Cabinet Minister or a peer in the House of Lords, promised:
“There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
Instead of being true to this promise, EU nationals have been made to *apply* to continue to live in the UK, a country many have called home for decades. An honest implementation of this promise would have seen a registration rather than the indignity of an application process. Application means you can be rejected. It is an outrage, and a stain on British democracy, that our EU/EEA/Swiss family, friends, colleagues and neighbours have been made to apply to stay in their own homes — many after decades of contribution to UK plc.
EU/EEA/Swiss nationals are already experiencing difficulty applying for jobs and accommodation. To add insult to injury, the government has now included them in its re-settlement scheme, whereby immigrants are offered £2000 to move back to their country of origin. This is an economically illiterate policy, when so many EU nationals are key workers and on average contribute more per capita to the UK economy than a British-born citizen.
There has been a government campaign to build awareness of the EUSS scheme. So far this has taken the form of social media memes and mini clips, a website and bus-stop posters. In addition to this, a number of campaign groups, such as the already-mentioned grassroots pressure group ‘The 3 Million’ and the charity Settled, have been working to support EU/EEA/Swiss nationals for years, fighting their corner against a hostile government. Speaking with these organisations, it became clear efforts have been hampered by Covid-19, pushing back outreach programs. Something more needs to be done.
This is where YOU come in, dear reader. We have a new campaign for you to get behind from the comfort of your own living room, and we hope you will join us irrespective of how you voted in the referendum.
VoteLeave chose immigration as one of the central pillars of its 2016 referendum campaign. However, they used fear not facts to convince people. Many EU citizens living in the UK are key workers in schools, care homes, hospitals and other public service institutions, but there is more to it than economics. They are our family, our lovers, our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbours. In short, they are a vital and vibrant part of our communities, and our country is the better for it. You cannot place a price on that. If our government will not honour the commitments made to EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, then we in civil society must step up and shame the government by doing it in their stead.
The campaign is the brainchild of Edmund Sides of Swansea for Europe. Contemplating the upcoming Census 2021 exercise on March 21, he realised that the following day would be the start of the 100-day countdown to the end of the EUSS application window. He decided that every day for 30 days in the run-up to the Census, beginning February 21, he would publicise EUSS with a simple message in both English and the official language(s) of whichever country is in focus that day. To this end, he approached Settled and recruited Joe White of Manchester for Europe to help set up the campaign and Sadie Parker of Dorset for Europe to do the artwork. Sides says:
“We wanted to reach out to communities from each EU and EFTA/ EEA country [and Switzerland]. We’ve distilled a simple message working with Settled and hope to reach as many people as possible. If we reach one extra person it will have been worth it but we hope to reach many more.”
The Act Now for Settled Status campaign launched Sunday 21 February. All we want you to do is think of any EU/EEA/Swiss citizens you might know and reach out to them to ensure they have applied for EUSS. If you don’t know anyone personally, you can still help by amplifying the daily messages on social media, which will appear on Twitter and Facebook from the Swansea for Europe accounts (@SwanseaForEurope on Facebook and @Swansea4Europe on Twitter.) Those in a local pro EU group who might like to engage more fully can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can get involved at any point until the June 30th deadline.