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Vulnerable EU citizens are at risk of becoming “irregular migrants” after Brexit.

24 Sep 2020

Vulnerable EU citizens such as young people who have grown up in care, victims of modern slavery and members of the Roma minority – as well as many others who may not realise that they need to apply – could “fall through the cracks” and lose their legal right to live in the UK after Brexit, a new report from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford confirms today.

The new report, Unsettled Status 2020, looks at the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) as the UK heads toward the end of the transitional arrangements that protected EU migrants’ right to free movement in Britain. EU citizens will be subject to immigration control for the first time in decades and they need to apply for “settled” or “pre-settled” status if they want to remain in the UK. If a significant number of eligible people do not apply by 30 June 2021, then they risk being classed as an ‘irregular migrant’ and losing the right to live and work in the UK – potentially even facing detention and removal.

The report explains that while most EU citizens living in the UK should have no trouble navigating the scheme, some vulnerable groups could struggle to complete an application. Data gaps make it impossible to know whether such citizens who are currently UK residents are not applying for status.

Dr Marina Fernandez-Reino, co-author of the new report said: “Applying to the EUSS is easy and fast, and more than 3 million applications have been submitted, but our analysis suggests that there could be many who will not apply. This could be because they are not aware of the scheme, they have difficulties navigating the process or there is no evidence to prove their eligibility”.

Even if only 1 per cent of the UK’s estimated EU citizen population failed to apply for settled status, it would generate more than 30,000 new irregular migrants in the UK.

Unsettled Status 2020, which updates previous analysis undertaken in 2018, identifies the groups who may be at risk of falling through the cracks and provides data on their likely numbers. Many are among society’s most vulnerable, such as children and young people who have grown up in care; members of the migrant Roma community; elderly people and long-term residents who do not realise they need to apply.

Dr Fernandez Reino said: “The sheer scale of the process means that even if we were to see more than 99% compliance with the scheme – a level which is unusual in any sort of bureaucratic process – this could still lead to many thousands of people with immigration problems next year. Many of them may be society’s most vulnerable.”

The government has not published any detail on what will happen to people who fail to apply, including what kind of reasons they will need to justify the fact they had not come forward.

An additional challenge of the EUSS will be to ensure that people with pre-settled status apply to the more secure settled status as soon as they have 5 years of residence in the UK. Some groups of people, especially those who are vulnerable, might not realise that their pre-settled status is temporary and that they will need to reapply.

Dr Fernandez Reino added: “But it’s not just the vulnerable we need to think about here – it’s also everyday people who simply wait too long, or just don’t realise they have to apply because they have been in the UK for many years.”

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