Call to change law to protect EU citizens as Settlement Scheme deadline passes

·4-min read

The law should be changed to automatically protect the rights of EU citizens and their families who continue to live in the UK, campaigners say.

A “tweak” to legislation is needed to ensure they do not face discrimination at work, in getting housing, accessing healthcare and benefits after the deadline to apply for post-Brexit residency under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) passes on June 30, according to charities and campaign groups.

EU citizens and their families have been asked to apply to the Home Office scheme by the end of the month to confirm their immigration status in order to continue living and working in the UK now the Brexit transition period and freedom of movement has ended.

Despite calls for an extension to the scheme amid delays and difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic – and while there is a backlog of around 400,000 cases awaiting a decision – the Government has insisted this will not happen.

One woman, who has lived in the UK for 44 years, told the PA news agency the stress caused by trying to apply to the scheme has made her feel suicidal, while another said she has been made to feel like a “third-rate citizen” waiting months for a decision.

At the same time, charities estimate that thousands of EU children living in the UK will become undocumented this week because applications are yet to be made on their behalf.

This comes after care groups warned that a substantial number of social care workers and their employers are not fully aware of the scheme and urged the Government to rethink its position amid concerns about the repercussions it could have on the sector.

Maike Bohn, co-founder of campaign group the3million, which seeks to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, said concerns remain about vulnerable people who could “slip through” the net and that the backlog of cases is “swelling upwards”.

She told PA: “There will be lots of people who end up somewhere and will have no rights. They will be unlawful and there will be consequences. The deadline is not purely administrative, it’s punitive.”

She said it would have been “absolutely right” to extend the deadline by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic but now the Government needs to “tweak” legislation to “make people legal from the 1st of July who can get status successfully later and that way they have protected everyone”.

She added: “People will still face discrimination but at least they will not face being without rights.”

Labour has also pushed for a three-month extension of the scheme.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster previously said an extension is not a “solution” but the Government has confirmed that anyone who applies by the deadline will have their existing rights protected, subject to the decision and any appeal.

Olivia Vicol, co-founder and director of the Work Rights Centre, said the charity has received hundreds of queries from EU nationals in the last few months about the EUSS, including concerns over delays waiting for a decision and how some employers are reacting to the changes.

She told PA that changing the law would “absolutely” help those who are at a disadvantage because they are yet to receive an immigration status and would avoid creating a “make-or-break scenario”.

She added: “No other Government scheme in history has achieved 100% take-up. We know some people will be left behind. It’s in no-one’s interest that they are penalised and threatened with the loss of fundamental rights.”

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that, after the deadline, questions will remain over whether it is “politically desirable or logistically possible” to remove people from the country.

“On July 1, nothing will look that different,” she said. “It may be a gradual process of people realising, in some cases probably after a number of years, they do not have status when something happens to demonstrate it.”

More than five million people have applied to the scheme, with tens of thousands of applications still be submitted each day. But it is ultimately not known how many are eligible and could remain in the country undocumented.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Employers and landlords who discriminate against those with a pending in-time application are breaking the law and we would urge them to familiarise themselves with published guidance and the statutory codes of practice.

“If someone hasn’t applied by the deadline of 30 June, we will take a flexible and pragmatic approach.

“They will be encouraged to apply as soon as possible and we have been clear that where someone has reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, we will work with them first to give them the opportunity to apply.”

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