As the June 30th deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) approaches, mixed messaging from the government appears to conflict with previous assurances.
Since the 1st of January, the Home Office has been quietly reaching out to foreign nationals, offering financial incentives to leave the UK. The Voluntary Returns Scheme encourages repatriation through financial aid with flights and up to £2,000 in resettlement costs.
A spokesperson from the Home Office has claimed this action was merely intended to provide information to those eligible who do not wish to remain in the UK under the EUSS. But this proactive government outreach has been questioned by those working with the most vulnerable EU citizens living in the UK.
A recent report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants warned that only one in three potentially vulnerable foreign nationals were adequately aware of the approaching EUSS application deadline. Claiming an intention to provide information has highlighted inconsistencies in the overall EUSS information strategy, raising concerns over people losing legal status, campaigners warn.
Over 4.9 million applications for UK settlement have been received so far, of which 55% have been offered indefinite settled status, and 42% have been offered a five-year stay under pre-settled status. These figures do not encompass the untold amount of eligible people who may be unaware they must submit an application or unable to. These people may face deportation, detention, or prosecution after the June 2021 deadline passes.
Additional issues to consider are the barriers impacting settlement application, such as language, lack of IT literacy and access, lack of appropriate ID, and those working unsociable hours.
The pandemic has created further barriers in terms of access to help when appointments must be conducted virtually, postal applications have been suspended, and local scanning facilities have been forced to close along with the EUSS Resolution Centre. Last year, advice agencies reported massive drops in application numbers due to these resource barriers.
The Home Office has previously assured that it is doing everything possible to protect the rights of vulnerable EU citizens and ensuring that all those eligible for the UK settlement scheme are supported in their applications.
Only one in three potentially vulnerable foreign nationals were adequately aware of the approaching EUSS application deadline
Civil rights organizations have questioned the government’s encouragement of voluntary returns when there is an unknown amount of vulnerable people in the UK lacking information and advice. Benjamin Morgan who heads the Homeless Rights Project at the Public Interest Law Centre said: ‘It is clear from our casework that some of the most vulnerable EU citizens are yet to resolve their status.
‘Barriers to application and delays in Home Office decision-making remain significant factors. This mixed messaging around settled status on the one hand and voluntary returns on the other seriously undermines the government’s claim that the rights of vulnerable Europeans will be protected after Brexit.’
Many of the individuals affected by the lack of proactive government outreach on their eligibility for the EUSS are those working on the front lines of the pandemic response, filling the labour gaps in key worker positions.
This has also been raised as a concern regarding the financial aid to repatriate offer. Can the UK cope with a mass exodus of key workers during this time of crisis? Medicine and care are not the only industries set to be harmed by the loss of foreign national employees. Skills gaps and shortages are also a threat to the construction industry where experts have been reporting consistent and significant drops in applications for apprenticeships. Losing skilled workers in these sectors would slow infrastructure development and raise prices due to demand.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel ruled out the possibility for an extension to the UK Settlement scheme in light of the pandemic in April last year. Yet despite rounds of funding provided to support charities and advice agencies, little has been done to address the barriers to the application that Covid-19 has caused.
Mixed messaging around settled status on the one hand and voluntary returns on the other seriously undermines the government’s claim that the rights of vulnerable Europeans will be protected after Brexit
Additionally, the strategy to provide clear information to everyone at risk of deportation has been proven to be lacking.
UK Immigration Minister Kevin Foster has dismissed criticisms of the paid to leave offers. Yet this somewhat under the radar approach to encourage repatriation contradicts the government’s support-heavy stance coupled to the EU Settlement Scheme.
[Header Image: Gov.uk]