EU nationals are suffering in the UK from a lack of COVID-19 support
The UK has come under fire from prominent MEPs for ‘discriminating’ against EU nationals as COVID-19 financial support packages from the Government only stretches to long-term residents.
A cross-party group of MEPs met this week to discuss how the Home Office is potentially plunging over a million EU nationals into destitution as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of support.
In accordance with the immigration rules, EEA and overseas migrants are only registered as a ‘settled’ person in the UK once they have accumulated five years of residency in the country. Once they have five years under their belt, they can progress from an insecure immigration status to a more permanent one, such as Settled Status or Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Yet this is leaving many EU citizens who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 in the lurch.
The Home Office is potentially plunging over a million EU nationals into destitution
It is estimated that there are around 1.2 million EU nationals in the UK who have been awarded with Pre-Settled Status, and many more are still yet to apply. However, without permanent immigration status, such individuals are burdened with the No Recourse to Public Funds rule and are therefore prohibited from seeking any form of financial aid from the Government such as Universal Credit.
The rule is problematic at the best of times, but now that many across the nation face being furloughed or losing their job altogether in the face of COVID-19, MEPs are criticising the Home Office for refusing to offer support and for plunging EU nationals into economic hardship.
MEPs even went as far as to claim the UK is discriminating against European nationals in the country and for breaching the terms and conditions of the Withdrawal Agreement.
This is leaving many EU citizens who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 in the lurch
MEPs have since written to cabinet minister, Michael Gove, saying:
“While the country is facing the severe consequences of the global pandemic of Covid-19, EU citizens under pre-settled status are facing significant obstacles to access social benefits such as Universal Credit.
“This would constitute a violation of the good implementation of the withdrawal agreement … As you are well aware, the number of EU citizens under a pre-settled status cannot be considered as marginal, as it exceeds a million individuals.
“Among them, those who may be in need of assistance during the current crisis are facing undue discrimination at the worst possible moment.”
The letter further highlights how EU citizens – who still have until June 2021 to register for Settled Status – are facing excessive delays in procuring their status. It declared that the processing centre is “no longer answer[ing] inbound telephone calls” and that “the postal route for submitting identity evidence is currently suspended, thus delaying the applications.”
This means that those who have not yet received Settled Status but would otherwise be eligible, are battling coronavirus while being starved of the support that they are entitled to.
Luke Piper, a lawyer representing the European campaign group, the3million, is urging the Government to relax some of the rules in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Piper said: “On the one hand, the UK is saying to EU citizens, you can live here, you are valued here, but we are not going to make it easy for you to access your benefits.
“But this is not just a political issue, it is a legal issue. But nobody wants to go down a legal route and it should just be sorted out politically.”
The Home Office routinely neglects its duty of care when it comes to abiding by immigration policies
However, there are serious doubts over whether the UK Government will take note of this criticism, particularly since the Home Office remains a stickler to the rules and unwavering in its ‘hostile environment’ endeavour.
The Home Office routinely neglects its duty of care when it comes to abiding by immigration policies. Just this week, the Government told Spouse Visa holders to rely on ‘savings’ in order to meet the financial requirement of the visa route in the event that they lose their job and income, and has laid out no such plans to protect loved ones from being deported should they fail to cough up the funds.
Migrants are still being herded into Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) for the mere convenience of the Home Secretary, despite the high prevalence and risk of the virus and the highly unlikely prospect of ‘imminent removal’ due to worldwide travel restrictions. One legal challenge last month saw the release of over 300 migrants from UK detention centres, but hundreds more remain trapped in limbo.
The Government further remains unwilling to budge on its cruel treatment of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants
The Government further remains unwilling to budge on its cruel treatment of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. Without Temporary Leave to Remain, undocumented migrants are hit with a double whammy of no job prospects, no financial support and no safe spaces to self-isolate. Their only lifeline is found in the goodwill of local charities and food banks – which have also felt the pinch amid the nationwide lockdown.
The MEPs concluded in its letter: “We, as elected representatives of EU member states, wouldn’t accept that British nationals would be discriminated against in the EU in the current situation. Similarly, European citizens living in the UK shouldn’t be unduly deprived of their rights.”