In 2019, the government launched the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) for European/EEA nationals living in the UK to safeguard their rights after Brexit immigration changes. It’s supposed to ensure that anyone who was in the UK before 31 December 2020 can secure their immigration status. The Prime Minister pledged to EU citizens in the UK: “you will get the absolute certainty of the rights to live and remain”.

The deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme is today, 30th June 2021.

At GMIAU we’re concerned about the risk of children in care and care leavers missing out on the scheme. We’ve been working with local authorities, including Manchester, to try and make sure as many children and young people in their care as possible make successful applications. This means identifying which children need to apply, which often isn’t obvious at first. It includes many children who were born in the UK, and people who have non-EU nationalities but have connections to EU countries. The Scheme is straightforward if you’ve led a straightforward life. But for children in care with disrupted, chaotic life histories it’s been an inaccessible, bureaucratic nightmare.

Despite empty promises and claims of efficiency and success, it’s clear that many won’t be safe from losing their status, being in the UK unlawfully, and the loss of rights that entails. That means being subjected to Hostile Environment policies and facing barriers to work, the ability to rent private accommodation, access bank accounts, welfare benefits, higher education and other services. And thousands of children and young people in the care of the state have been put at risk.

Not so straightforward

The Home Office may claim that the EUSS is easy to navigate, but our experience shows something different. Our advice line saw 198 calls from people of 20 nationalities about Brexit between March 2020-December 2020. Often calls came from people who had lived in the UK for years and had little understanding of how to ensure they could stay here. We heard from callers originally from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Maybe the scheme hadn’t been well communicated, so they weren’t sure whether they needed to apply; maybe they were finding the process confusing; maybe they were worried about how long their decision was taking; maybe their employer or landlord had threatened them with unemployment or eviction due to their status; maybe their life was complex in a way that made the application harder, like not having proof of nationality or residence. These are all problems we saw, yet they are problems the Home Office want us to believe don’t exist.

What next?

Now, despite the hard work of many, lots of children and young people who needed to apply won’t have been identified or applied. Government data shows a third of children in care who need to apply have not yet done so. In Greater Manchester, over the last week we’ve been inundated with calls from local councils. They’re still finding children who need to apply and racing to get their documents together. Those who don’t make an application by Wednesday will be in the UK unlawfully. That means thousands of vulnerable children in our communities at risk of homelessness and poverty.

 This is a Scheme of the Government’s making, with an arbitrary deadline that they have the power to change. This new report by IPPR gives some practical suggestions for the government to safeguard people from losing their rights. We need Government to lift the deadline and guarantee our children’s post- Brexit future with automatic immigration status. They deserve nothing less.

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