I am sure that most of us, who know, work with or have friends and family members from the EU or EEA have heard of the so-called EU settled status scheme.
An earlier draft of this article appered in Liberal Democrat Voice.
The scheme is crucial and it ensures that all Europeans living in the UK can continue to receive the same entitlements they had until the transition period ended at the end of December 2020.
The Home Office has published this week (week ending 14th February) the latest data in relation to the EU Settled Status Scheme. It is encouraging to see that such a significant number of EU nationals have already submitted their applications. It is fair to say that overall, the process is relatively simple and straightforward.
The figures show that, up to the end of January 2021: 5.06 million applications were received, 4.68 million applications were processed. Across the UK, 4.57 million applications were received from England, 252,400 applications from Scotland, 83,800 applications from Wales and 81,800 received from Northern Ireland. 2,497,600 (53%) were granted settled status and 2,039,800 (44%) were granted pre-settled status, thus showing more than 4.5 million grants of status.
Of the remaining applications, 51,400 (1%) received a withdrawn or void outcome, 50,600 (1%) were invalid and 38,900 (0.8%) were refused. It is slightly concerning that previously applications could have been refused on the grounds of criminality, however now, applications might be refused on grounds of eligibility, which is clearly open to interpretation.
In my view, this might particularly affect more vulnerable EU nationals. In total, the number of rejected applications on the eligibility grounds increased from 7 in February 2020 to 300 in March 2020. Could this slight ‘change of guidance and direction’ coincide with the UK’s departure from the EU, which happened on 31 January 2020? Will this trend continue in the future?
So far so good? Let’s imagine for a moment that someone you know, because of the health pandemic, had to return to e.g. Poland to look after a family member. Let’s say that the person back home has just left the hospital and needs additional care and support. Possible? I think so.
I must admit that I was concerned to read this week, in the Times, that thousands of European citizens who returned home during the Covid-19 crisis face losing their long-term right to stay in Britain, under strict new Home Office rules. The government, not for the first time, decided not to relax the restrictions agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement for those who chose to return home.
This arrangement will “only” apply to people who were given the provisional right to remain at the end of transition period but they still need to gain the full settled status. If he or she leaves Britain for more than 6 months, they will automatic right to gain the settled status scheme.
What if this person had to take an unpaid leave to return to the country of their origin? What if this person has a job in the UK, pays a rent? It is morally wrong, isn’t it? Will this uncertainty and another broken promise ever end?
In March 2020, the government awarded additional contracts worth £8 million to 57 charities across the UK to help EU citizens to apply for the EU Settled Status Scheme. A further £4.85 million of grant funding has also been announced this week for the network of 72 organisations who support vulnerable people in applying to the scheme.
UK’s transition period ended on 31st December 2020. EU Settlement Scheme is so important. It enables Europeans living in the UK to remain in the UK. We must ensure that our rights to live, study and work in the UK are safeguarded and protected. We need to encourage our fellow Europeans to fully ‘embrace’ this new, and to some extent uncertain situation. However, most of all, we must work together to continue our voices to be heard.