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Vulnerable EU citizens risk failing to secure right to remain in UK

April 12, 2018 2:16 PM
By Jamie Grierson in The Guardian

Exit from BrexitAcademics warn that people may not be aware they need to apply for 'settled status' after Brexit

Vulnerable EU citizens including the elderly, children in care and victims of domestic abuse are particularly at risk of failing to secure the right to remain in the UK after Brexit, academics have warned. As the UK draws closer to departure from the bloc, the government is developing a system to give EU citizens already living in the UK "settled status".

But a "potentially significant" number of people may not be aware that they need to apply, including tens of thousands of children, the Oxford University-based Migration Observatory said, warning that the government will need to ensure that those eligible are well-informed.

The Home Office said it was planning a range of support for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and families, victims of domestic violence, and those with English as a second language.

Children in care are singled out by the academics as being particularly vulnerable as they may not have support completing an application and may have difficulty producing evidence of residence if they have moved frequently between foster homes and schools. Others at risk have specific vulnerabilities, such as 50,000 female domestic abuse victims, who may also miss out on the procedure, the Migration Observatory said.

In a report, titled "Unsettled Status? Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit?", the migration experts said others may struggle to navigate the application process, including nearly 60,000 aged 75 and over and those without access to the internet. Others who may struggle include the disabled, those with dementia, and about 250,000 who struggle with the English language.

EU citizens living in the UK are on average highly educated and should not be expected to have problems, the academics add, but if they have more than one of the vulnerabilities described, it will put them at risk of falling out of the process. There are about 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK, the vast majority of whom should be eligible for settled status, they said.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: "The Home Office is clearly keen to create a system that is easy and straightforward to use, and most EU citizens should be able to sail through a simplified application process with little difficulty.

"But for a minority of people, the process will be more difficult. Many of these are already society's most vulnerable - whether it is because they are socially isolated, have been victims of exploitation, or face personal barriers such as mental health or poverty."

The Migration Observatory research is based on what has been negotiated so far about the EU-UK agreement on rights for EU citizens and their families. The report comes just weeks after migration experts warned that children of two EU citizens may not be eligible to get British passports even if they were born in Britain.

People who, by 31 December 2020, have been continuously and "lawfully living" in the UK for five years will be able to apply to stay indefinitely by acquiring settled status. Those who will not have been living here for five years when the UK leaves the EU will be able to apply to stay until they have reached that five-year threshold. Then they too can also apply for settled status.

Ministers have previously said the application process will include an online form of six to eight questions, cost no more than that charged for a British passport - currently £75.50 - and should deliver a decision within two weeks of the application being submitted. It is understood that the Home Office could make a mobile app available for the process.

The government has pledged that the process will be "streamlined, low-cost and user-friendly". But the Migration Observatory has warned the government faces a challenge in raising awareness about the need to apply. If the deadline is strictly enforced, and a significant number of eligible people do not apply, the number of illegally resident EU-nationals in the UK could rise.

Sumption said: "Perhaps the biggest challenge if the government aims to include all EU citizens in the settled status process is awareness. It's possible that many people simply won't realise that they need to apply.

"We know from other government programmes like child benefit that people often don't apply for something even when it's really in their interests to do so. When the deadline arrives, people who haven't applied lose their legal status. This means that one of the biggest policy questions is what will happen to people who were eligible but didn't apply in time."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are well aware of the challenges of ensuring that 3 million EU citizens and their family members living here understand the need to apply and have the ability to. That is why we have already launched a national awareness campaign, are holding monthly meetings with EU citizens' representatives to understand their needs and are planning a range of support for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children and families, victims of domestic violence and those with English as a second language.

"We will be setting out further details before the summer and EU citizens will have plenty of time to make an application. But we have also been clear that we will exercise discretion if there are good reasons why someone has not been able to make an application before the June 2021 deadline."