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Brexit and its impact on EU Citizens living in Wales

October 2nd 2019

As Brexit looms closer, Claire Thomas questions how well the EU Settlement Scheme is working and its impact on EU citizens living in Wales 

Earlier this week I attended an informal event arranged by the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee to discuss how Brexit is affecting EU nationals living in Wales, with a particular focus on the operation of the EU Settlement Scheme.

The Committee is currently undertaking a consultation into changes to freedom of movement after Brexit and the implications for Wales. With a view to informing the Welsh and UK Governments’ thinking in this area, the Committee is seeking the views of stakeholders on the policy implications of the proposals for Wales. The Bevan Foundation has previously given evidence to the Assembly’s inquiry into migration policy in May, and recently submitted a written response to the consultation.

The session was attended by eleven people, many of those were representing organisations who have been providing support and advice to people applying to the settlement scheme and also one person was able to share first hand experience of going through the process. This was a good opportunity to learn about their experiences and some of the challenges they are facing , and the impact on those who have been required to apply.

The EU Settlement Scheme

If you’re an EU citizen resident in Wales up to the 31st October 2019 you are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement scheme and have until (at least) the 31st December 2020 to do so. People who can prove five years continuous residency will be granted indefinite leave to remain and will be able to access all rights. People who are unable to prove five years continuous residency may be granted pre-settled status and can apply for settled status once they can prove five years continuous residency.

The application process as it stands now appears complex and confusing and could result in many EU citizens ‘slipping through the net’,  potentially putting them at risk deportation or being resident in the UK illegally (and in some cases not knowing they are).

Sharing concerns across organisations

It was a good opportunity to listen to those who are helping people through the application process and and it also confirmed that the concerns we have previously raised are valid.

Proving length of residency is said to be difficult as people often don’t have the physical evidence required. This often means people will be granted pre-settled status. Stakeholders expressed their concerns about this and what impact it will have on people’s access to certain benefits – despite the sound-bite that ‘people’s rights will remain the same’. Also there are concerns about what this will mean for them in the future, and could the right to re-apply be removed?

Registering children who were born in the UK is a particular issue of concern. Stakeholders explained that parents cannot currently use their child’s birth certificate to prove length of residency and some parents have had to visit their embassy (in London or outside of the UK) to obtain the necessary proof. Some parents simply cannot afford to do this and therefore some parents may have settled status but their children don’t. How will this affect the future of those children who have been born and brought up in Wales?

The system does not reflect family’s complex lives. Some family members will have settled status and others won’t. How will this affect families living together in Wales in the future? Will they be forced to make some difficult decisions about whether they stay together or continue to live in Wales?

Stakeholders highlighted some of the practical problems with the system – the use of digital centres and applications only being able to be completed via an android phone, the need to scan documents, and issues around literacy. It is clear that some people will need support to navigate the process and stakeholders expressed their concerns around future funding, and what happens when the funding runs out? Who will provide much needed support for people after the funding runs out?

Worryingly, some stakeholders said they have received reports that frontline staff (like GP receptionists and dentists) are turning people away and saying that as EU citizens they can no longer access services. There is clearly a need to stop this and educate frontline staff as a matter of urgency!

The impact on people living in Wales

The discussion did not solely concentrate on the system itself but also the impact of on those who have been required to go through the Resettlement Scheme and the overall effect Brexit has had on them. Sadly, it has been emotional and unsettling for those who live here, who are now anxious about their future in Wales.

Some said that there have been issues in schools with some children displaying negative attitudes.

There were calls for the Welsh Government to provide positive messages on migration, to raise the profile of this issue and to get the message out to those who currently feel unwelcome – that they are welcome. As part of the discussion, I said that the Scottish Government has done a lot to reassure EU citizens of this – and that this message goes a long way.

It is not just the Welsh Government that needs to provide positive messages, but stakeholders said that people had been let down by their employers (which includes organisations like local authorities) who had not sent them messages of support.

What next?

We are pleased that the committee took the opportunity to listen to these issues first-hand, and we hope that they will be considered by the Welsh Government.

It is clear that Brexit has resulted in some community divisions, and in order to move forward there is a need to ensure that all people feel welcome in Wales. The Bevan Foundation is currently gathering evidence on integration in Wales and exploring the need for a national strategy. We believe this work is timely and necessary. If you would like further information about this project please contact Claire Thomas.

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