Owen Thompson’s column on EU Citizens applying for settled status

Friday June 18th 2021

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Midlothian MP, Owen Thompson, writes his monthly column for Midlothian View

We are about to reach another unsavoury Brexit milestone at the end of June, when the deadline for EU citizens to apply for settled status arrives. This cliff-edge date means there is less than two weeks to go before we could see Europeans who are unable to prove their status stripped of their rights to live and work in the UK overnight.

Regardless of how long someone has been here and how much they have contributed to our economy and our culture, we could potentially see European friends, neighbours and colleagues suddenly in legal limbo, unable to show they have the ‘right to reside’. They’ll become part of the ‘hostile environment’ that Priti Patel and her colleagues at the Home Office are so fond of creating. They will lose their right to work, to rent their homes, to access the NHS or welfare support. It’s a dreadful scenario that the UK Government’s hard, inhumane Brexit policies have created.

As the report ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ warns, those who have not applied by the deadline and don’t have a good reason for making a late application will immediately and irreversibly lose their rights of residence, and will join the ranks of the ‘undocumented’ with risk of deportation. Even if you have applied on time but are still waiting on a decision on July 1st, if you cannot demonstrate your right to reside you will also immediately lose your rights.

This is an appalling situation which could lead to an immigration scandal far bigger than Windrush if action is not taken to prevent it.

For this reason I urge all European nationals to check if they need to apply for settled status and make sure they do so urgently.

The good news is, it’s a relatively simple process and, for once, the UK government is seeking to grant status rather than refuse. To date, more than 5 million European citizens have applied and around 2% of applicants have been unsuccessful. But potentially hundreds of thousands more people have not applied and are at risk as the deadline fast approaches.

Some of these EU nationals are vulnerable adults who may not have the information they need or struggle with the ‘digital by default’ application process. Others who live and work here may not be aware the scheme applies to them as they continue with their day to day lives. Worryingly, research evidence shows problems with awareness of the scheme is higher amongst EU care workers and other key workers – the very people we clapped for and who we relied on throughout the Covid crisis.

Awareness is also lower among low paid workers in the agricultural and food processing sectors – a section of the economy which has already been badly pummelled by Brexit. The Scottish economy, faltering through the pandemic, is on course to be hit yet again by another own goal, as well as creating unnecessary stress and suffering for our fellow citizens.

I dearly wish this was not necessary and we still enjoyed the benefits of freedom of movement, but I urge all European citizens in Midlothian to make sure they get the application in without delay. We want you to stay in Scotland.

Help is out there for those struggling to understand the changes and what they need to do. The Scottish Government has invested in a package of support including funding a free National Helpline run by Citizens Advice Scotland on 0800 916 9847.

They have also worked with JustRight Scotland to produce a number of factsheets in different languages, explaining EU citizens’ rights to vote, work and access healthcare, education, housing and benefits. There’s more information on the EU Citizens help page on the Scottish Government website.

In the meantime I call on the UK Government to take action and fix the problem they are creating before it’s too late – they have the power to lift the deadline and stop this ticking time bomb in its tracks. The SNP have repeatedly called for the UK Government to bring in a declaratory system with all EU citizens in the UK automatically granted post Brexit residence status, to prevent them losing their rights overnight and Scotland’s economy, NHS and other key sectors being damaged. Another Windrush is in absolutely no-one’s interests.

I think it’s very sad that it has come to this, that European citizens will have to prove their status and could be treated with suspicion instead of feeling welcome on our shores. But while we remain part of the UK and outside of the EU, that’s the situation we’re faced with, so I urge Midlothian based EU nationals to make sure they get their residence status sorted. If you need any more information or advice, please do get in touch with my office and I will do what I can to help.

For advice and support on applying to the EUSS for people living in Scotland: www.mygov.scot/help-eu-citizens

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