If you worry about the UK government's treatment of EU citizens after Brexit, you should support the campaign to launch an EU green card.
Not many people know this, but one category of EU citizens has already had first-hand experience of the "hostile environment" that risks becoming a reality for all of the Europeans who reside in the UK after Brexit. Their experience should serve as a warning about what could happen once restrictions on EU citizens' right to live and work in the UK begin to be imposed.
Romanians and Bulgarians, who before 2014 were required to apply for permission to live and work in the UK, do not have fond memories of those times.
Under the restrictions imposed on citizens of the two countries, which joined the EU in 2007, those who came to the UK with a job offer were issued a Worker Accession Card, which was coloured in purple and for which the UK-based employer had to apply at the Home Office. The worker could not start work until the card was issued.
In the first year, the purple card allowed the holder to work only for the company that had requested it. After a year, the holder was free to apply for a coveted blue Registration Card, which permitted him or her to apply for jobs with other employers.
The blue card, which offered the most rights, was issued direct to those who had skills that were in short supply on the British jobs market, such as civil engineers or software programmers.
The self-employed were issued a yellow Registration Card, which offered them the right to work as contractors and run their own business, but not as employees.
Obtaining these cards was not easy. For the checks carried out by the Home Office, people had to submit a lot of paperwork, from proofs of ID to proof of job offers, contracts, marital status, etc. They waited for months for their applications to be resolved – during this time, jobs were offered to other candidates who were ready to start, and sometimes landlords refused to let properties to people who could not produce these cards as proof that they were in the UK legally.
Applying for them in person rather than by post could, in theory, speed things up. In practice, however, this was almost impossible: the number of appointments was very limited, and they could only be booked online. Speculators who had set up automated scalping bots would snatch them as soon as they appeared on the website, and would sell them later for steep prices.
Since Romanians weren't exactly flavour of the month at the time, their plight went largely unreported by the British media. But after Brexit, such problems could affect all of the 3.6 million EU citizens living and working in the UK.
Yes, it is true that the UK government promised to make the "settled status" application as easy as simply entering your name and a few pieces of information in an app on a mobile phone. But perhaps this promise would carry more weight if the EU citizens' status had been guaranteed from the beginning of the Brexit negotiations. Instead, they were made to feel used in the negotiations as bargaining chips.
So far, EU citizens have all the reasons to worry that whatever promise the government makes, their status is far from settled. In fact, "unsettled" has been a better word to describe it since the EU referendum.
This is why it is crucial that EU citizens residing in the UK support the proposal to issue an EU "green card", which would provide physical proof of the holder's "settled status" in the UK.
By holding such a card, EU citizens could quickly prove their right to work and reside in the UK to potential potential employers, landlords or business partners who, after Brexit, may worry that they break immigration law by entering into a business relationship with them.
The experience of Romanians and Bulgarians before the restrictions on their rights to live in the UK were lifted should serve as a reminder for EU citizens that relying solely on the UK government to do the right thing for them puts them in quite a vulnerable position.
If you are an EU citizen in the UK or know one who could benefit from an EU green card, please support the campaign and spread the word.