On the 30th June 2021, any European EEA+ resident who has not applied for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) will lose their legal status and face criminal charges, detention and deportation. For most, the application is simple with few complications; for those who slip through the cracks, the devasting consequences of the hostile environment will be forced upon them. Such people include those most vulnerable, cared for children, adults with limited mental capacities and the Roma communities.
The government have identified those who are at risk of becoming criminalised overnight however, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) argues that their definition is too narrow. Their study, ‘When the Clapping Stops’ demonstrated that up to 1 in 7 care workers who were unaware or unsure what EUSS was. The pandemic overshadowing essential news has led to a lack of awareness of many essential services and deadlines; the change to an opt-out transplant donation scheme, availability of home use of early medical abortion are both essential developments that have been undermined by the lack of news coverage. Jen Vinton, customer services director at YHN stated that many of those affected ‘didn’t realise they needed to apply to the EUSS’. Whilst the government has estimated that 85% of those eligible have applied, the lack of attention and promotion of the EUSS deadline renders many of the most vulnerable at risk from missing the deadline- many whom constitute essential key workers.
Similar to those impacted by Windrush, there is a strong likelihood that those affected by the change have lived in the UK for many years and view the UK as their home. The emotional impact of the scheme ought not to be underestimated, making long-term UK residents feel ‘horrible, undervalued, cheated and used’. At a time where we clap for carers and celebrate our health care staff, the impact of EEA+ care workers losing their legal status would be overwhelming upon a care sector already under significant pressure pre-Covid 19. The situation regarding care workers is most worrying, however, the risk to vulnerable groups ought to be disregarded. Many workers in low pay, long-hour jobs are at risk and their work ought not to be undervalued.
There is still time to prevent a second Windrush-esque scandal, however, it is coupled with a desperate need to recognise those who live in the UK and meaningfully contribute to our society as UK residents. Many EU countries are granting British citizens automatically settled status post-Brexit to avoid the high risk of thousands becoming criminalised. Boris Johnson also promised to grant ‘automatic status’ which would avoid this potential calamity. If the government kept their promise to EEA+ citizens, not only would many be saved from the great anxiety and frustration of the EUSS, but the potential loss of key workers would be easily prevented.
Furthermore, EU citizens have been added to the government’s voluntary return scheme which provides a financial incentive to return to your country of origin. However, many argue that this contradicts the government’s claim they are doing everything they can to encourage people to register for settled status. Either they are not, or their efforts have been proved by the lack of awareness to be ineffective. With less than 6 months to apply to the scheme, despite the uptake of 4.9 million applications as reported by Immigration Minister Kevin Foster, those most vulnerable are still at risk. Combined with the mixed messaging of the voluntary return scheme, there is a fear that many will be reluctantly or forced to leave which will be detrimental to communities in the UK.
Joyce McCarty Newcastle City Council’s deputy Labour leader feared that without the community’s European citizens the city would be ‘substantially poorer’ having ‘relied on so much’ of the services provided in the ‘NHS, health and social care, supermarkets and food banks.’
The government need to reconsider how they treat those who are most vulnerable in today’s society and address their treatment of migrant workers. The JCWI demands the deadline be extended alongside a robust monitoring and outreach system or all EEA+ citizens be granted automatic settled status. They also call for the end of the hostile environment. An aspirational demand, however, with the pandemic shining a light on the value of work EU citizens provide our communities, it is time to demonstrate our gratitude with more than just clapping on a Thursday night.