Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens in UK risk uncertain status from 1 July

British and EU flags are seen prior to the arrival of British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, ahead of the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Lisa O’Carroll

Deadline to apply for settled status two weeks away, as academics warn that vulnerable groups face loss of rights

Academics are sounding the alarm about the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens in the UK who face falling into legal limbo on 1 July with their right to rent a home, work or continue in retirement at risk. With just 13 days to go before the government’s deadline for EU and EEA nationals and their children to apply for settled or pre-settled status, a report from UK in a Changing Europe warns of the dangers ahead for those who do not apply by 30 June.

The academic campaign group is concerned that some who have applied but are still awaiting a decision from the Home Office – including children and the retired – could face difficulties if they cannot prove their status when they try to access the NHS or travel.

The latest official statistics show 320,000 people are still awaiting a decision on their status – settled status for those who have been in the country for more than five years and pre-settled for those in the country for fewer than five.

The UK in a Changing Europe report, titled Brexit and Beyond, warned: “If applicants cannot demonstrate they have a ‘right to reside’, they will lose their rights immediately, even if their application is valid. This is likely to impact most severely upon vulnerable applicants with complicated cases. Given delays in processing applications this difference in treatment could become quite significant.”

The government has pledged that those on the waiting list do not need to worry and “a pragmatic and flexible approach” will be taken on late applications. However, Catherine Barnard, deputy director of UK in a Changing Europe and a professor in EU law at Cambridge University, said people should be aware of the legal importance of having status, despite government reassurances.

“In order to apply for settled or pre-settled status all you needed to be was resident in the country before 31 December. But in order to be protected after 30 June, if you have not got the status, you have to be exercising EU treaty rights which means you have to be in work, self-employed, a student or a person of independent means,” she said. This means that children, the retired or spouses of an EU citizen who are from a non-EU country who have applied for but have not been granted status could be in difficulty, she said.

The other cohort at risk are those that did not know they needed to apply for citizenship, which could include older adults who have been in the country for decades and do not believe the scheme applies to them, Barnard said.

UK in a Changing Europe analysis showed that just 2% of the 5.4 million applications for status are in the over 65s category. Other vulnerable categories highlighted by 45 charities last week included victims of violence, homeless people, children and adults in care.

Barnard said: “On one level, the EU settled status is a massive success in terms of providing a quick and efficient system, which has reached huge numbers of people. But it is about to enter a phase that will require sensitive management where the government will need to show pragmatism and flexibility in dealing with difficult cases.”

From 1 July landlords and employers will also face fines if they rent to or employ people without status or who have applied for status, with representatives of tenanted properties last year warning that some owners will just go for the easy option and rent to British and Irish people who have automatic rights.

Under legislation about to be updated, landlords will be required to perform follow-up checks on tenants with pre-settled status and can be fined up to £3,000 for breaking the law, while employers can be fined up to £15,000, with discounts for reporting people to the Home Office early. The future borders and immigration minister, Kevin Foster, urged those who have not applied to do so by 30 June, promising that rights would be protected for those in the backlog.

“We have already confirmed that someone who has applied to the EU settlement scheme by the 30 June deadline, but has not had a decision by then, will have their rights protected until their application is decided,” he said.

Source: The Guardian