According to recent data, many thousands of European children who are living in care in the UK face becoming undocumented within months as only one in four has been granted post-Brexit immigration status.
The data obtained under freedom of information law by the Children’s Society, shows that more than 2,500 EU nationals in the children’s care system, around 28%, have not yet been awarded settled status through the EU settlement scheme.
Following Brexit, EU citizens who wish to stay must apply for the new form of status through the scheme by 30th June. Those who do not, run the risk of becoming undocumented, leaving then unable to access state support and liable for deportation.
For children in care, the responsibility for applying for status falls on the legal guardian or their council social worker – but figures reveal that despite the deadline approaching, many councils have not yet started to apply for the youngsters in their care.
Of the 175 councils who were able to provide information, 3,690 looked after children and care leavers were identified as needing this form of status, of which, 1426 applications (39%) have been submitted and only 1,027 (28%) have secured status.
When the charity submitted the FOI request in January 2020, just 730 applications had been made for children in care, of which 404 had received status. This means that in the last twelve months only about 700 more applications have been made.
The Home Office has estimated there are about 9,000 children in care and care leavers, who may be eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme, suggesting the true number yet to receive settled status could be far higher. There is no official data on their nationality.
Charities have warned that these vulnerable children and young people, face being left with no legal status in the UK, which will prevent them from working, renting a home, opening a bank account and claiming state support, as well as placing them at risk of deportation once they become an adult.
The Home Office are being asked to commit to accepting late applications for looked after children and care leavers and to protect their status in the interim, saying this would prevent them from facing “years of limbo”, or the ramifications of having become undocumented.
Chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “No child should ever have to face the uncertainty and limbo that comes with being undocumented but it seems thousands of EU children, who are supposed to be in the care of their local authority, could soon face this cliff edge. This is simply not acceptable”.
“That is why it is vital councils and the Home Office work hard to identify every child and care leaver that needs to go through this process and ensure social workers and all those involved have the knowledge and understanding to ensure these applications are made in time”.
Chair of the Local Government Associations’s children and young people board, Baroness Blake, said councils were supporting children who are in or are leaving care through the EU settlement scheme “where appropriate”.
She also added: “However, the impact of the current pandemic on capacity across councils, the legal system, embassies and the organisations providing outreach needs to be considered. Vulnerable groups unable to complete the EU settlement scheme may be given some flexibility and it will be important to identify well in advance those who may need support to access the scheme after the deadline”.
Kevin Foster, Immigration minister, said the Home Office was “determined” to ensure all eligible children and care leavers secured their status under the EU settlement scheme, and that it had provided charities, councils and local government associations with “extensive training” and £22m to help vulnerable people apply. The department will soon be publishing guidance on reasonable grounds for late applications, which will include looked after children and care leavers where the local authority or parent or guardian failed to apply for them.