Tens of thousands of EU citizens in the UK could lose their legal status next month because of an “arbitrary” deadline that will leave vulnerable people in an “intolerable situation”, MPs and peers have warned.
There is just over a month to go before the government’s deadline for the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) – which guarantees post-Brexit residency – closes on 30 June.
More than 50 parliamentarians from all parties and in both houses have written a joint-letter to Boris Johnson warning that EU citizens will be forced out of the country “overnight” unless the “cliff-edge” is removed.
They say that even if only 1 per cent of the estimated 4 million EU citizens are not able to apply on time, tens of thousands of people will be left vulnerable to detention and removal.
The Home Office’s outreach campaign has failed to reach sufficient numbers of EU citizens amidst a pandemic that has severely disrupted support services, the letter warns.
Neale Hanvey MP, who coordinated the cross-party letter, said: “Some of the most vulnerable EU citizens who chose to make the UK their home now face an utterly intolerable situation.
“One that the prime minister personally promised would not come to pass. That is why I led this cross-party letter to put pressure on the prime minister and his government to do the right thing.
“This issue drives to the very heart of who we want to be as a society and the relationship we hope to have with our European neighbours.”
Mr Hanvey added : “The more than fifty parliamentarians who have signed my letter now call on the prime minister to urgently remove this arbitrary and inhumane deadline and grant automatic settled status to all EU citizens resident in the UK as a matter of urgency.”
Research from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University indicated that vulnerable groups, such as elderly people, those with physical or mental disabilities or homeless people, are more likely to slip through the cracks.
Recent evidence from the Children’s Society also found that only 39 per cent of identified EU looked-after children and care leavers have submitted applications to the settlement scheme, and only 28 per cent have secured their status.
The Home Office provided 72 front-line charities with funds to assist in marketing and advertising the EUSS scheme.
Marianne Lagrue, CORAM Children’s Legal Centre (one of the charities funded by the Home Office to provide EUSS support) said: “It is positive that the Home Office has provided funding for charities, local authorities and community organisations to reach some vulnerable EU citizens and family members, and that it continues for a short time beyond the EUSS deadline.
“However, that funding could never reach everyone. If anything, it has demonstrated to us as grant-funded organisations the high level of need that still exists with under 50 days to go.
“The support work undertaken by grant-funded organisations should not be used as a justification for not taking action to amend the EUSS to protect the rights of EU citizens and their families.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The EU Settlement Scheme has been open now for more than two years and we are pleased we have already surpassed 5.4 million applications.
“We have published guidance for grounds for making a late application and we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach when considering these.
“We have a dedicated team of more than 1,500 people working to process applications and we have also provide £22m to organisations that support vulnerable people.”