The EU Settlement Scheme for EU citizens living in the UK is rolled out in ‘public test phase’ today, meaning EU citizens can start to apply for the status they will need after Britain leaves the EU, writes Steve Ballinger.
The scheme should work simply and efficiently for most people. But the sheer scale of the task ahead, with the Home Office potentially required to register 3.5 million people by 1 July 2021 – or 5,600 people every working day – means that the stakes are particularly high. Even if 5% of eligible applicants struggle to apply or are rejected, this would equate to 175,000 people living in the UK without status.
A new report from British Future, Getting it right from the start: Securing the future of EU citizens in the UK, examines in detail the potential barriers to securing settled status; who could be affected; and the actions that the Home Office should take to make sure that the system works as well as possible.
Those barriers include people not hearing about the scheme or realising that it applies to them; struggling to provide evidence of residency or finding the system too hard to navigate; or encountering technical difficulties if the system cannot match names and official records.
The report suggests remedies in each case and urges the Government to adopt five key commitments to ‘get things right from the start’:
- Ongoing investment in the system, including staff to handle complex cases;
- A systematic and sustained communications campaign to ensure that hard-to-reach groups hear about the Scheme and understand that they must apply;
- Transparency and accountability, including publishing targets for the time it takes to process complex cases;
- Providing rapid redress when mistakes are made, through an administrative review process with a target of making decisions within 10 working days;
- A ‘cost-price’ British Citizenship offer, at a reduced rate of £300, to EU citizens with five years’ continuous residency who meet the other citizenship requirements of good character, English language and knowledge of life in the UK.
Politicians from across political and referendum divides expressed support for the new proposals.
Conservative MEP Dan Hannan said:
“The UK should make clear that it values the EU citizens who have made their homes here – and that means going beyond warm words. Encouraging EU citizens to remain here with settled status is a bare minimum, but we should go further and make it as easy as possible, logistically, for EU nationals who want to make a deeper commitment to this country to take British citizenship. Heaven knows we benefit from their energy and enterprise.“
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey MP said:
“British Future is right to highlight the grave risks that Brexit poses to the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
“No one seriously believes that the Home Office will be able to grant settled status to everyone who’s eligible within two years. Thousands will be left effectively undocumented and subject to Theresa May’s hostile environment.
“Liberal Democrats demand better for the Europeans who’ve made their lives here and contribute so much to our economy, our public services and our society. They must not become the victims of a new Windrush scandal.”
Stuart McDonald MP, SNP immigration spokesperson, said:
“This report is absolutely right to point out that the possibility of hundreds of thousands of EU nationals being caught up in a Windrush environment is a very real one. All of the suggestions put forward in the report are thoughtful and constructive and the Home Office should listen and take them on board. The SNP has called for the settled status fee to be scrapped, and it would also make sense simply to ditch the cut-off date for applications, so that people can still register at a later date, even if that is the first time they discover they are required to apply. ”
Should the EU Settlement Scheme experience problems, public trust in the Government’s ability to manage migration, already at a low level, would be further undermined. EU citizens will experience uncertainty and distress and employers could risk losing key staff who might chose to return to their home countries.
So the successful delivery of the EU Settlement Scheme is an important test for the Home Office. Get it right and the UK sends a strong message that EU citizens are welcome and the Government is in control. Get it wrong and the consequences could be dire.
Steve Ballinger is Director of Communications for British Future.