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Domestic abuse victims, elderly people and children in the UK at greater risk of becoming illegally resident after Brexit

12 Apr 2018

Substantial numbers of UK residents could be at risk of losing their legal status after Brexit, with particularly vulnerable groups including victims of domestic abuse, elderly people and children, a new Migration Observatory report shows today.

The report – “Unsettled Status? Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit?” – represents the most comprehensive effort to date to estimate the size of different groups who could struggle to secure settled status after Brexit. This includes vulnerable people who may find it difficult to complete an application and provide the necessary evidence, as well as EU citizens who may simply not realise that they are covered by the new regulations and need to apply for “Settled Status” (SS).

To acquire SS, EU citizens will need to show that they started living in the UK before the cut-off date (which is currently scheduled to be December 31, 2020), and will need to complete five years of residence here. But despite efforts by the government to ensure that SS is as inclusive as possible, the report shows that several groups of EU citizens are nonetheless at risk.

This includes people who are already vulnerable for other reasons. For example, women who are victims of domestic abuse, especially if they are not working and rely on their partner for evidence that they have been living here (e.g. utility bills and leases). EU citizens are less likely to describe experiencing domestic abuse than UK or non-EU citizens, according to official data provided to the Migration Observatory. Nevertheless, the same data suggest that more than 50,000 EU citizen women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in 2016-2017. Other vulnerable groups of EU citizens in the UK include children in care and victims of trafficking, although there are no reliable data on these groups.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The Home Office is clearly keen to create a system that is easy and straightforward to use, and most EU citizens should be able to sail through a simplified application process with little difficulty. But for a minority of people, the process will be more difficult. Many of these are already society’s most vulnerable—whether it is because they are socially isolated, have been victims of exploitation, or face personal barriers such as mental health or poverty.”

The report also identifies larger, if less vulnerable, groups of people who may simply not realise that they need to apply. Among them are (N.B. these groups are not mutually exclusive):

  • More than 140,000 people who have lived in the UK more than 30 years
  • 56,000 elderly people (age 75+)
  • Over 145,000 people who have already been granted permanent residence, but will nevertheless need to apply for settled status.
  • Over 900,000 children of EU citizens living in the UK, whose status will depend on their parents knowing that they need to apply.

Available data suggest that there could be tens of thousands of children born in the UK whose EU citizen parents mistakenly believe that they are automatically UK nationals.

Sumption added: “Perhaps the biggest challenge if the government aims to include all EU citizens in the settled status process is awareness. It’s possible that many people simply won’t realise that they need to apply. We know from other government programmes like child benefit that people often don’t apply for something even when it’s really in their interests to do so. When the deadline arrives, people who haven’t applied lose their legal status. This means that one of the biggest policy questions is what will happen to people who were eligible but didn’t apply in time.”

The EU-UK agreement on citizens’ rights says that a ‘proportionate’ approach will be taken to people who do not apply within the deadline, where there is a ‘good reason’. What this means in practice has not been set out in detail, however.


Notes for editors:

From midnight on April 12th the Migration Observatory report “Unsettled Status? Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit?”  will be published at: https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/reports/unsettled-status-which-eu-citizens-are-at-risk-of-failing-to-secure-their-rights-after-brexit

The research for this report was supported by the Transition Advice Fund and Trust for London. The Transition Advice Fund is a joint initiative by NPC, the Legal Education Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy; more information is available at www.thinknpc.org/our-work/projects/transition-advice-fund. Trust for London supports work which tackles poverty and inequality in the capital; more details are at www.trustforlondon.org.uk.

About the Migration Observatory:

  • Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory receives core funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk.

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