There are exactly two months remaining until the EU Settlement Scheme officially closes to applicants. The scheme, something all EU citizens who came to the UK before 2021 must apply for if they wish to continue living here, grants either pre-settled status (‘limited leave to remain’) or settled status (‘indefinite leave to remain’). But, as recent headlines have demonstrated – notably in the case of Dahaba Ali, a journalist refused settled status despite having lived in the UK for 17 years – too many people are slipping through the cracks.
With limited time left to apply to the scheme, a group of EU immigration experts and charity leaders have issued a stark warning about the EUSS process and its potential consequences on the lives of thousands of people. In it, they detail the barriers EU nationals face when applying to the scheme, as well as the specific risks to women, children, and long-term UK residents; many of whom may not be aware of their obligation to apply.
“If even 1% of the estimated amount of eligible people don’t apply, that’s tens of thousands more undocumented people vulnerable to harmful Hostile Environment policies, for whom the consequences will be devastating,” commented Caitlin Boswell, Project Officer for EU Citizens at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).
Proving one’s right to live and work in the UK also has a gender dimension, as law professor Charlotte O’Brien highlighted. “As far as the Withdrawal Agreement goes, the key social security risks recognised, and for which workers have their residence rights protected in EU law, are male risks. Women are disproportionately impacted by care responsibilities and domestic abuse – events not considered in EU law. While the EUSS does not require evidence of work, it is easier for applicants to demonstrate that they meet the residence conditions if they have a clear and simple work history.”
The digital-only nature of the EUSS is another concern, presenting difficulties for a “significant minority” of EU nationals. “Making this application requires a level of digital competence, hardware, and internet connectivity that is simply not within everyone’s reach,” comments Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, WoRC’s Director.
“This is an application that requires regular digital maintenance. EU nationals have to notify the Home Office if they change their contact details, name, or ID, and all of this happens online. Whenever they are asked to prove their right to work to an employer, they can only do it by issuing a virtual share code with a limited 30 day validity. For millions of EU nationals, the right to reside in the UK has become a test in digital literacy.”
The group also raised questions over the guidance around extended absences from the country, which may jeopardise a person’s chances of obtaining settled status, and the Home Office’s guidance on late applications.
“A ‘continuous’ five-year period of residence is required to obtain settled status but is broken by absences of more than six months in a rolling 12 month period,” explains Lizzie Wilkinson, EUSS Project Officer at Europia. “A person cannot upgrade to settled status if they have broken their five-year continuous period, but are also being told they can leave the UK for two years if they have pre-settled status. The guidance is confusing, even to those whose first language is English.”
While the ramifications of failing to apply to the EUSS may not become apparent as soon as the 30th June, the likelihood is that they will be felt in years to come. “I’m concerned that a lot of the repercussions of all this are going to be hidden,” comments immigration barrister Colin Yeo. “There’s going to be no apocalypse on the day of the deadline. It’s going to take years and, for the people who are going to be affected, their lives will just be quietly ruined.”