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Protecting the rights of EU migrants living in Wales

February 2nd 2021

Freedom of movement ended on 31st December 2020. Claire Thomas sets out what this means for EU citizens who want to stay in Wales


EU citizens currently living in Wales have until the 30th June 2021 to apply to the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Those who can demonstrate five years or more residency will be granted settled status. Those with shorter residence will receive pre-settled status and will need to reapply for full status.

Those who do not apply by this deadline will, in theory, lose their legal basis to stay in the UK. In the worst-case scenario, they could face possible removal from the UK.

Progress towards meeting the deadline

Awareness of the scheme is crucial, and there are a number of organisations in Wales who are promoting the scheme. Welsh Government have also allocated resources to ensure EU citizens can access free advice and support. Many applications are complex and therefore this support is invaluable.

However, for several reasons ensuring people meet this deadline has been challenging:

  • There were no advocacy organisations/services for migrants in Wales prior to EUSS support.
  • The pandemic has made it difficult to promote more general awareness of the scheme.
  • Coronavirus restrictions have led to support being delivered over the phone or online, rather than via face-to-face activities.

It is not all bad news; at the end of December there had been 80,700 applications made in Wales. Organisations who are supporting/promoting the EUSS have responded well in these challenging circumstances and are helping people apply. However, it is extremely likely that there will still be people who miss the June deadline. Newport Mind, who have been supporting people, estimate that there could be around 6000 people who have not yet applied.

While progress has been made in terms of applications, many of those have been granted pre-settled status meaning they will have to re-apply for settled status. There are certain risks with this, particularly as it is dependent on people remembering to apply. Also, the funding for support organisations is due to end in June 2021, so anyone who needs to re-apply will not have the same access to free support and advice than they do now.

Action needed?

As a matter of urgency, between now and June the Welsh Government needs to increase communication with EU citizens to ensure they are aware of the EUSS and know where they can access support and advice.

While it is important to ensure people apply to the scheme, there are also wider issues around protecting migrant rights. Through our work we have found that many migrants face discrimination when accessing employment, housing, health and education. Many are unaware of their rights and have nowhere they can go to challenge discrimination. We call on the Welsh Government to build on the support offered as part of the EUSS scheme, and continue to provide migrant advice and advocacy support beyond June 2021.

You can read more about our work examining the EUSS here

Claire Thomas is a policy and research officer at the Bevan Foundation and leads on our work on migration and integration. 

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