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Reports warn EU citizens at risk of being caught up in hostile environment immigration policies after EU Settlement Scheme deadline


the3million, the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit and University of Cambridge academics highlight post-Brexit problems ahead

Date of Publication:
01 September 2021

Reports warn EU citizens at risk of being caught up in hostile environment immigration policies after EU Settlement Scheme deadline

01 September 2021

A comprehensive new report published yesterday by the campaign group the3million considers the rights of EU citizens in the UK following the passing of the 30th of June deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).

Pre-Brexit EU flagThe 107-page report, which was submitted to the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), can be downloaded here. It accompanies the3million's earlier February report to the IMA available here.

The new report highlights the various barriers that EU citizens, both with settled status and without status, will encounter now that the EUSS deadline has passed.

In particular, the3million stresses its continuing concern over the impact of the Government's 'hostile environment' immigration policies. Indeed, the report asks a fundamental, central question: "Does the hostile environment framework undermine the rights of EU citizens under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement?"

The report examines in detail the issues faced by EU citizens and their family members in every aspect of the hostile environment framework.

Individual chapters of the report consider individual rights, including the right to work, to rent, to benefits, to NHS healthcare, to study, and to family reunion.

The report also considers the backlog of EUSS applications, the process of applying, and the accessing and proof of the new status.

The three key areas of concern identified by the3million are:

  • Those who miss the EUSS deadline and have no immigration status have no rights to work, rent or access vital services including health care.
  • Those with pending in-time applications have rights but are increasingly struggling to enforce them.
  • "View and Prove" is now a mandatory process for people to prove their immigration status in the UK.

the3million says it is now beginning to see examples of EU citizens being caught up in the hostile environment, and it is receiving increasing reports of people being denied access to vital services and rights.

In the chapter on the right to work, the3million notes: "A fundamental rebalancing of approach is needed. Rather than focusing on the success of the hostile environment, in other words the success of the barriers put in place to prevent anyone without the right to work from working, the Government must place much more emphasis on ensuring everyone can be united with their rightful legal status."

Later on in the report, the3million adds: "It is simply reckless to, from one day to the next, pitch six million people into a society that has for years been pushed by hostile environment policies and legislation to distrust anyone with a different name, accent or skin colour, armed only with a digital status (at times inaccessible!) which that society has not been educated on."

Last week, the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) published a short report on the experiences of people left behind after the passing of the EUSS deadline.

You can download the 5-page report here.

GMIAU said: " Overnight on 1 July 2021 … tens of thousands of people lost their right to be in the UK lawfully. … Since 10am on the morning after the deadline we've been contacted every day by people from across Greater Manchester and the North West who have been failed by the EU Settlement Scheme. People are calling us feeling anxious, panicked and helpless in the face of Government bureaucracy and delays. Poor Home Office communication (particularly around the need for children and older people to apply), an arbitrary cliff edge deadline, technological issues, a backlog of half a million cases and the impact of the pandemic have all led to predictable turmoil for the people we've spoken to."

Amongst those identified by GMIAU as being at particular risk are the elderly, people living in care homes, children in care and care leavers.

GMIAU highlights the case of one Italian woman in her 90s who came to the UK as a young woman and who didn't realise she needed to apply to the EUSS until the day of the deadline.

While the woman has since made a late application to the EUSS with the help of GMIAU caseworkers, her daughter explained the trauma she had experienced: "My mum was absolutely petrified. And you don't need that in your 90s. She's had a stroke, she's had a heart attack, and she doesn't need that in the last years of her life, to be so scared. That panic - you could see her going downhill. She didn't want to move off her chair. She's never cold, and she kept saying 'I'm really cold'."

In the report, GMIAU warns: "The EU Settlement Scheme deadline has pushed tens of thousands of people out of status to face hostile environment policies that are designed to make their lives a misery. … The problems caused by the Scheme are only just beginning to surface and for some people may take many years to come to light, causing intergenerational injustices. … We are asking the Home Office to take every opportunity to keep people lawfully present in the UK and away from the devastating consequences of the hostile environment."

Also of interest recently is an academic study by Catherine Barnard, Sarah Fraser Butlin and Fiona Costello of the University of Cambridge examining the lived experiences of those who applied to the EUSS.

The study was published last month in the Social & Legal Studies journal and is available online here.

The authors commented: "This article examines the experience and perceptions of those navigating the European Union Settlement Scheme and how they feel about life in the UK post-Brexit. It raises questions about identity and belonging. We also examine the other routes European Union nationals, and their family members, are choosing to use to secure their status in the UK. Our research highlights how the impacts of Brexit and European Union Settlement Scheme are unevenly felt and experienced by different European Union national groups."

The article notes that many EU nationals expressed the view that Brexit made them feel like they were 'becoming a migrant' in the UK.

"Previously, many considered themselves as being an equal EU citizen who had moved to the UK under the freedom of movement rules. Brexit initiated a process of being reclassified as a 'migrant' which some struggled with, noting that they had never felt different in the UK before, a process of being 'othered'," the article explains.

In concluding, the article highlights how the immigration-related fallout of Brexit will continue for decades:

"[L]ooking to the future, all those who have secured status under the scheme will also need to undertake status maintenance for the remainder of their life in the UK, and be able to share their status with third parties at all relevant junctures. Third parties will have to undertake additional immigration checks, with significant consequences for any failure to do so, as well as the potential risk of discrimination (direct or indirect) by those who fail to undertake the 9-step process [in order to check the status of an EEA+  citizen] …

"The EUSS, while a remarkable success at one level has had and will continue to have serious consequences. The legacy of EU (EEA+/NEFM) migration to the UK and the roll-out of the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to have an impact for decades. The replacement of a two-tier system of migration to the UK (one for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals, one for the rest of the world) with a one-tier system for the rest of the world, including the EU, masks the significant numbers of individuals who enjoy special status under the EUSS, a status that they will have to maintain actively."

In an article last month on UK in a Changing Europe, Catherine Barnard and Fiona Costello highlighted some of the problems EU citizens have experienced since the 30th of June.

They warn that the examples given in the article foreshadow more systemic issues, such as "over-cautious employers, under informed statutory services, sudden updates, an unusable digital status, a digital 'glitch'," and they warn these problems have real life consequences "like debt, food poverty, homelessness, and unemployment."

Barnard and Costello said: "On this side of the cliff's edge, the true measure of the success of EUSS lies in how quickly these issues are dealt with."