The EU Settlement Scheme has been unpredictable since it began. It is now caught up in a backlog of applications and delays of up to a year and the fear that thousands may not have even applied despite the deadline closing on 30 June.
A very large number of the EU population in Britain remains vulnerable to slipping through the net and becoming a part of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ measures in the coming years.
There is belief that many of these applications will have failed to apply through no fault of their own such as the elderly, long-term residents, children of EU citizens, children in care, the homeless, victims of abuse, trafficking or modern slavery, all at risk of missing the deadline.
Even though the Home Office says these claims are incorrect, Law Society lawyers are seeing a large upturn in clients who have no idea that they need to register. Another report found that 2% of all EU applicants were over the age of 65. Just under half of applicants have been granted pre-settled status, meaning they have to wait even longer (until five years’ continuous residence has been accumulated) before they can switch to Settled Status. After 12 months of Settled Status, holders can apply for British Citizenship and live freely from all immigration restrictions.
However, without Pre or Settled Status, people may well lose their rights soon – including employment, tenancies, welfare support, bank accounts and access to the NHS. Those who are not in the process of applying or who have not applied at all will be considered ‘undocumented’ in the eyes of the Home Office as of 1 July 2021. Although late applications are still being considered, applicants must prove that they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to justify the late submission.
The Home Office, however, seems to be taking no notice of its own rules as it emerges EU citizens still in the middle of applying for status are being detained and threatened with deportation. The legal charity, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) has criticised the Government for breaching the spirit of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and of ‘administrative or wilful neglect’.
It is believed that those who are most likely to make the Home Office’s new removal list are those who sent paper applications – people who are usually society’s most vulnerable, such as those with no internet access particularly the elderly.
Making matters worse is the fear that may of these overnight ‘undocumented’ migrants may feel assigned to the shadows of the UK. The fact that these individuals are forbidden to work, rent and receive welfare support presents severe problems to individuals some of whom are already victims of trafficking or slavery. Of course when desperate, destitute and fearful of deportation these already marginalised individuals can easily fall into the hands of criminals who will only exploit their already precarious situation.
It is of the utmost urgency that the Home Office permits a longer grace period for applicants who may be vulnerable to falling through the system. Without doing so, the Government is only letting the issue snowball into maybe another Windrush fiasco and maybe also a modern slavery crisis.