This report from New Europeans UK and funded by Trust for London looks at the experience of vulnerable EU communities accessing the EU Settlement Scheme, the government's brand new digital immigrations status for EU citizens living in the UK.
The wholly digital nature of the Government's EU Settlement scheme ('EUSS' or 'the Scheme') is the first of its kind and is challenging for many EU citizens, particularly the vulnerable, living in the UK.
- These challenges include the lack of necessary skills and technology for digital engagement and usage. Regardless of their age and socio-economic background, many applicants require support from a community organisation or family member to apply.
- No support has been given to prepare EU citizens or the community organisations on which they rely, in using the digital system which is the EUSS.
- The Home Office assumes, incorrectly, that existing EU citizens, often of long standing residence, tax payers and contributors to the economy, are fully aware of the need to apply and in possession of the right tools to make use of this new application process.
- Within a 5-year time frame, more than 1.7 million EU citizens and their family members with Pre-settled status will have to reapply to the EUSS to upgrade to Settled status. Failure to do so may expose them to the risk of being subject to the 'hostile environment' and liable for detention and deportation, as well as losing their entitlements and being unable to legally rent, work or access essential support and services in the UK.
- This digital status undermines the autonomy of individuals, creating situations of dependency. This also means that without the necessary support, many EU citizens will not be able to prove their status, access benefits and other entitlements it affords. In general, regardless of their age and digital literacy, status holders have issues accessing their status.
- COVID-19 has disrupted and limited outreach and advice services supporting Europeans to apply to the EUSS ahead of the end of free movement and yet the deadline to apply (30 June 2021) has not been extended.
In order to overcome the problems related to the Scheme, within the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the following recommendations are proposed:
- Extending the 30 June 2021 deadline, at least to 30 June 2022, to ensure that people, especially the most vulnerable, who have been isolated during lockdown and experienced the closure or limitation of support services available, will receive help with their application.
- Extending the option to use paper application forms for a wider number of cases, in order to make sure that everyone has fair and equal access to the process.
- Implementing the issue of a physical document proving the status, especially for vulnerable applicants. This would ensure that everyone has access to their status and are able to prove it to others. It would also ensure that Pre-settled status holders do not miss the expiry date of their status and upgrade to settled status.
- Including the date of arrival in the UK into the application process. This would ensure that a timely reminder to upgrade to Settled status is sent when a person becomes eligible.
- Creating a free and official App to improve access to the status, to manage and share it easily with others.
- Simplifying access to the existing Gov.uk website.
- Ensuring long term support and promotion of the EUSS by continuing to fund the community and voluntary sector, the continuation of the EU Resolution Centre and the 'Assisted Digital' service for vulnerable people.
- Improving the Home Office’s technical and digital EUSS support by including community languages to improve access and support to vulnerable people.