Immigration Act May Leave European Migrant Children Undocumented in the UK

Children in a classroom

The Immigration Bill was granted Royal Assent on November 11th to become an official act of Parliament. The end of free movement could leave children of European migrants undocumented or with insecure status and subject to the hostile environment.

The removal of the right of free movement has the potential to have drastic effects on how European migrants can settle in this country, especially children for whom the UK may be the only home they know.

Before this Act, the Home Office introduced the EU Settlement Scheme. The scheme was intended to smooth the process of EU citizens residing in the UK during Brexit by providing them ‘Settled status’.

Initially, the status was dependent on the duration of time that an EU citizen had resided in the UK. EU citizens who had resided in the UK for more than 5 years before 31 December 2020 were granted settled status. EU citizens who had not were instead granted ‘Pre-settled status’, which allowed leave in the UK for up to 5 years before a grant application is needed. Therefore, children of EU migrants could previously gain British citizenship relatively easily. The right of free movement allowed children to reside in the UK with their parents as long as they were from EU member states.

Eu migrant children could run the very real risk of becoming undocumented and subject to the hostile environment [Image: licensed by William, Adobe Stock]

Risk of deportation could loom for EU migrant children, if their parents live or work in the UK and are deemed not skilled enough to contribute to the economy

However, from 2021, the government will depend on a points-based system that will force EU migrants to attain leave from the government to stay and work in the UK. Through this, the government is knowingly restricting immigration with an unfair system. Of the estimated 900,000 eligible EEA citizen children residing in the UK, only 412,820 children had been granted status under the settlement scheme by 31 March 2020.

The risk of deportation looms for EU migrant children if their parents live or work in the UK and are deemed not skilled enough to contribute to the economy. Likewise, the law also fails to state what measures will be put in place to help EU migrant children to transition smoothly into UK schools and living. They are now at increased risks of discrimination and alienation if they are not given enough English-speaking support where it is required. Furthermore, children could risk becoming undocumented if they or their families do not apply by the deadline, living in the UK unlawfully and under harsher hostile environment policies.

The Migration Observatory in Oxford has reported already that EU migrant children feel more discriminated against than their parents, with effects felt even by children born in the UK with EU migrant parents.

Poverty and deprivation levels in non-EU born houses are at 43%, compared to 29% for British born houses, the study found. Economic inequality could widen as access to benefits could potentially be reduced.

Knock-on effects are created. Parents may be unable to afford food to give their children a proper diet and even lack basic necessities such as hot water and heating. This is due to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule which disallows migrants with visas’ from access to benefits. Studies have shown that this can have a direct impact on a child’s school attainment.

The Migration Observatory in Oxford has reported already that EU migrant children feel more discriminated against than their parents

Investigations at Kirklees School found that 50% of children receiving school meals weren’t reaching their expected levels in reading and writing during Year One. Furthermore, this trend continues all the way throughout a child’s education until they take their GCSEs.

As a result, if the correct safety measures aren’t put in place, there is a potential that migrant children in Britain will be deprived of securing their futures. The Home Office must ensure the Immigration Act does not force them into a position of insecurity for the rest of their lives.

[Header image licensed by CDC, Unsplash]

Written by
Kieran Isgin