A pilot scheme that allows some EU citizens living in the North West to apply for “settled status” in the UK has been cautiously welcomed by campaigners.
The initiative allows staff at 12 regional NHS trusts and staff and students at three universities in Liverpool to submit applications, while the government finalises details of the new legislation. It marks the start of a threeyear programme to register the estimated 3.8 million EU citizens living in the UK under freedom of movement rules.
The “managed live trial” will involve up to 4,000 people and will allow Home Office officials to test the system and make changes ahead of a phased roll-out later this year. Applicants must go through the process in person with an official, while later phases will allow people to submit their forms online. Applications costs £65 per adult and people must have lived in the UK for five years to qualify.
Living in limbo
The launch follows more than two years of limbo for EU nationals, who have been unsure of what their rights would be after Brexit. In essence, the pilot offers unilateral guarantees for these citizens – since applicants who qualify will receive settled status regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Until recently Theresa May had been unwilling to offer universal guarantees.
Roger Casale, founder and CEO of campaign group New Europeans UK, said:
“This should have happened two These citizens have been living in limbo for two years and two months, which has caused huge stress for many. But at least they are doing it now. This is an important development which could start to reduce some of the uncertainty around EU27 citizens’ rights post Brexit. It also represents a significant policy U-turn by the government,which we welcome.”
Campaigners now want the scheme rolled out nationally as soon as possible – and widened to include workers from the private sector. Casale called on the government to confirm the rights of all EU27 citizens, including electoral rights and their rights to
family reunion. He said: “It is time to bring to an end this shameful episode of treating the lives of our fellow human beings as collateral in the Brexit negotiations and give people the certainty they need to be able to plan their future.”
Uncertainty over post-Brexit rights has been blamed for the loss of almost 4,000 EU nurses from the NHS in 2017-18, fuelling fears of the impact on services.
Estephanie Dunn, regional director for the NHS in the North West, welcomed the pilot and hoped it would reassure staff and help trusts plan their workforce. Dunn said:
“EU nurses contribute significantly to the region’s health and social care and bring with them a huge range of skills, expertise and knowledge. The risk of losing this workforce would be devastating. We therefore welcome the opportunity to get this process moving in our region at the earliest opportunity as providing these nurses the ability to plan their futures cannot be underestimated as a mechanism to stem the flow of EU nurses from the UK. For the participating trusts, we see it enabling them to put more robust workforce planning in place and deploy the right numbers of staff with the right skills and abilities to deliver safe care.”
Concern has been raised, however, about the cost. Feidhelm Doolin, president of the students union at Hope University, which is taking part along with Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool, said:
“I’m pleased the government is rolling out the settled status scheme unilaterally but it is not fair to expect students or anyone else to pay £65 to buy back some of the status they had before the referendum. Make the scheme free or at the very least give a concession for students.”
North West MEP Julie Ward warned against complacency. She said:
“Under growing political pressure, the government have been forced to U-turn and stop using human beings as bargaining chips in their farcical negotiations. But we should not be complacent. For example this relatively small pilot scheme imposes fees on people wanting to take up the trial that are costly and prohibitive for some. I will monitor this rollout at every stage, and fight to ensure that all EU citizens are given the protection they deserve and that their rights are not violated.”
About the author:
Ciara Leeming is a regular writer and editor for The Big Issue in the North
Reproduced with kind permission: