This week the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – which will end EU free movement in the UK – faces scrutiny in the House of Commons as a group of selected MPs go through it line by line. For the government the Bill is all about exerting control: “Today we’ve taken the momentous first step to end free movement and take back control of our borders, delivering on the people’s priorities.”
Its passage through the Commons, in the middle of a global pandemic, has shown just how naive government attempts to act tough on immigration control can be.
The Bill itself is narrowly drawn around Brexit immigration changes – with much fuss about what is being taken away, less detail on how a new immigration system will look. It means some of the pressing issues around the Hostile Environment will struggle to get air time.
One issue we are hoping will get attention is the situation for EU nationals wanting to stay in the UK after Brexit. We’ve supported a lot of people in Greater Manchester to make applications to the EU Settlement Scheme so that they don’t become unlawfully present in 2021. In particular, we’ve been working with local authorities to make sure children in care and care leavers don’t get left behind. Our work has shown it’s not simple or straightforward for care-experienced young people to make these applications.
- How to get evidence of nationality when your parents are no longer in the country?
- Who is able to vouch for how long you have been in the UK when you’ve spent a childhood moving around?
And COVID-19 protection measures have exacerbated these difficulties, making re-documentation and evidence collection impossible, and risking many more missing the application deadline and facing 2021 at the mercy of the Hostile Environment.
The government insists the scheme is working well and points to those who have already applied, rather than those from vulnerable groups who have not been able to. We hope that during their examination of the Bill, MPs are able to get reassurances from government that people who need to make out of time applications will have them accepted with no detrimental impact to their immigration situation, that an extension of the Settlement Scheme is the only sensible action following COVID-19 and – if they are serious about protecting our EU friends, family and neighbours – that the government gives people automatic status.