By Benjamin Fox
The difficulties facing EU nationals wishing to remain living in the UK have been highlighted in a report published by Migrant Voice on Tuesday (19 November).
49% of applicants said they had found the process difficult, while 35% said they faced complications in the application process. 38% of respondents had been asked to provide further evidence of their residence in the UK beyond their National Insurance Number.
“It’s a slap in the face to pay taxes for 10 years and then find out that the state doesn’t even have your records,” said one respondent.
“These findings are deeply concerning, especially given the vast scale of this scheme and the devastating consequences for those who are failed by it or who do not apply before the deadline: the sudden loss of lawful residence in the UK and all the rights that go with that,” said Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, a UK-based NGO.
“While we welcome the fact that many people are finding the process a smooth one, it is troubling that so many people are facing significant technical problems, poor guidance, delays and a lack of communication. The severe impact on the health and wellbeing of so many of those applying or facing the prospect of it is equally concerning,” he added.
The Home Office has reported that 2.4 million EU nationals have applied for settled status, including half a million in October.
However, 40% of these have been given pre-settled status, a figure which increased to 44% in October. Pre-settled status allows applicants to stay in the UK for five more years, at the end of which they will have to apply again for settled status.
The report also suggests that many people have delayed applying for settled status because of fears about the UK government bureaucracy mishandling their case. 33% of respondents told the survey that they hadn’t applied because of fears that they will face problems.
“Lots of people will apply after the date and we expect a lot of complex cases to come up later,” Chris Desira, an immigration lawyer advising the European Commission on the EU Settlement Scheme, has told EURACTIV.
EU officials and civil society activists have warned that people who acquired citizenship rights from a family member or refugee status, or who are less technologically able, may face particular difficulties accessing the scheme.
That, combined with warnings by UK ministers that non-applicants risk being deported, has prompted many to call for the Home Office to extend its June 2020 deadline if the UK leaves the EU with a Brexit deal, or for the government to introduce a ‘declaratory or registration scheme that is not time-limited’.
“There will be people who, ultimately, will be facing removal. That’s an inevitability,” one official working on the settlement scheme told EURACTIV.
Meanwhile, dozens reported having experienced “technical glitches and communication problems” with the Home Office during the process. The app to apply for settled status is currently only available on Android and iPhone 7 devices.
“The message, repeated so often by our politicians, that EEA nationals and their families are welcome here must be made a reality through legislation that guarantees their rights, regardless of the outcome of Brexit, and through a declaratory or registration scheme that works for all,” said Nazek Ramadan.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]