Why protecting migrant rights is crucial

People A hand holding a blue passport
Photo courtesy of Ethan Wilkinson on Pexels
ViewsJune 4th, 2021

With the deadline fast approaching to apply to the European Union Settlement Scheme, Claire Thomas examines what it means for EU nationals living in Wales

EU nationals have just twenty-six days to apply for settled status. As of 30 June 2021 EU residence cards will expire and EU nationals who live in Wales and have not yet applied could be facing an uncertain future.

The European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

EU citizens who want to continue to live in the UK beyond 30th June 2021 will need to apply to the 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 in due course.

In a key-note speech last week launching the latest immigration plans, the Home Secretary heralded the EUSS scheme a triumph. Up until March 2021 87,960 people from Wales had applied to the scheme, which is higher than what was predicted in 2019. Therefore, in theory, the scheme does seem to have been successful. However, many organisations fear that thousands of EU nationals have not yet applied.

There is provision for late applications to the scheme for pre-settled or settled status if there are reasonable grounds, however these are limited and unclear. Indeed, given the UK Government’s track record on creating a hostile environment towards migrants and the Windrush scandal it is not inconceivable that many people who have not applied will lose access to housing, jobs and benefits and in the worst-case scenario some may face deportation. Some even foresee a ‘Windrush part-two’ or EUSS scandal. 

Why would people not have applied?

There are a variety of reasons why people have not yet applied. Some will simply not know that they have to apply and there are concerns about particularly vulnerable groups including older people, people in care homes and with illnesses including dementia. Others who have lived in the UK for decades may not be aware that this applies to them – why would they?

There is also an issue with the process itself. Despite claims that applying is simple, in reality this may not be the case. Many people will have complex situations, will not have the right documentation or need to speak to or visit their consulates or embassies which may be costly (but also more difficult due to the ongoing travel restrictions). Some will require extra support to make an application and during the pandemic much of this support will have been moved online, causing difficulties for some.  

The role of the Welsh Government

Many Europeans living in Wales make a crucial contribution to the Welsh Economy working in the health and social care sectors as well as hospitality and tourism. The Welsh Government has attempted to reach out to EU nationals and express messages of welcome and provide support. However, the EUSS scheme presents a particularly difficult issue for the Welsh Government. Immigration policy is a reserved matter and despite many communications expressing its opposition to the UK Government’s approach on immigration, the Home Office has continued to make all the key decisions with little regard to the needs or wishes of Wales.

While the Welsh Government did not create this system, it has had a pivotal role in developing a structure of support and advice to EU nationals. Continuing to express messages of welcome is important but advocating for the rights of EU Nationals and other migrants will become even more crucial after the June deadline. It is also important to recognise that this deadline should not represent a line in the sand, rather, it should be an opportunity to realise the benefit of providing advice and support service to ensure migrants can exercise the rights they are entitled to and help them to live well in Wales.

Dr Claire Thomas is a policy and research officer at the Bevan Foundation

Tagged with: BAME & migrants

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