"Flaws in the Immigration Bill mean that where the rights of EU citizens should be protected, they aren’t."
Freedom of movement between the UK and the EU is set to come to an end. That means our citizens here will no longer be able to travel, work and study freely in another member state, and the same will apply to EU citizens here.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill that was put to the House of Commons earlier this month is what will end this. It’s currently making its way through the legislative process and is due to be heard in the House of Lords.
The bill is significant because it will eventually bring our treatment of EU citizens in line with non-EU citizens.
What happens in the short-term will depend on whether or not we leave with a deal. If we leave with a deal, then a transition period will occur where most rules will stay the same until the end of 2020.
If we don’t secure a deal, EU citizens coming into the UK will have to apply for what’s been called ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain’ – where they will still get the same rights now, but only up until 2021.
After that, EU citizens are set to be subject to the same stringent rules as non-EU citizens. If a UK individual wants to bring their Dutch spouse for example, then on a Spouse Visa, they would have to be earning at least £18,600. That restriction does not apply at the moment.
For those already resident here, they can apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. This gives them to right to stay if they can prove they’ve lived in the UK for at least five years. They must also undergo checks around their identity and criminal record.
Some though have already reported problems, including being initially denied the right to stay.
Lisete da Silva Bull, 44, moved to the UK from Portugal in 1993. She is a professional baroque flute and recorder player, and is self-employed.
Despite having lived here for more than 25 years, she was rejected from being offered ‘settled status’ and told she needed to provide more evidence.
She told us: “The app provides no helpline either in the form of a phone number or email one can ring and or write.
“I have had a National Insurance card since 1993, have been paying tax for over 20 years, filling a tax return every single year. This is easily traced on gov.uk, it’s all there clear to see, so why can’t the Home Office see it?”
Lisete initially worried about having to leave the country. She said: “By law I am perfectly legal to be here, have always been and can’t really be evicted from the UK.
“All I want to do is to get on with being a safe space for my children without this hanging over me.”
Lisete has now secured her settled status, but she knows many other individuals who are in a similar situation to hers. The scheme is already facing criticism as Home Office staff attempt to complete more than 5,000 applications every day.
And until EU citizens have successfully applied for settled status, thousands will not legally be allowed to be here after March 29th. There could be those who forget, don’t know or apply too late and are still waiting for a decision. Others may have been trafficked or are victims of domestic abuse. For all of them, their rights are likely to enter a ‘cliff edge’ – where they suddenly lose them.
Even for those who do get settled status are not fully secure. Much like they do now for non-EU citizens, businesses, employers and landlords will be responsible for checking the settled status of their individuals. Many people who are not trained in border security will be expected to act as a Border Force guard. This is likely to lead to mistakes.
Worse still, some landlords may refuse to serve EU citizens out of fear. Businesses may let go of their EU staff, worried about whether or not they’ve made the right checks.
This could all have serious consequences for EU citizens. Some may find themselves struggling to go about their daily lives, while others may be threatened with removal. The European Commission has already had to investigate the UK over its deportations of EU citizens, with more than 5,000 nationals removed in 2017.
There could be more removals in the coming months as the children of EU citizens are left in a precarious position because there is currently no system in place to identify every child who is entitled to stay under the EU Settlement Scheme.
That’s despite the fact these people have the right under free movement rules to be here. The Home Office has been described as ‘riding roughshod’ over EU nationals’ rights. Could you imagine then what might happen to them if EU citizens fail to secure their status?
We could find them becoming victims of the ‘hostile environment’. Flaws in the Immigration Bill mean that where the rights of EU citizens should be protected, they aren’t.
Rather than make them declare their status through the process of the EU Settlement Scheme or Temporary Leave to Remain, simply saying who they are should be enough. The current process is insufficient and the current bill is unfair and unjust. We should take a stand.
Jack Gevertz is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of UK immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.
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