By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — Thousands of Europeans living in the UK risk missing the deadline to apply for settled status in Britain because they are unaware of the new settlement scheme or lack the digital skills to complete the application, according to new research.
After June 2021 EU citizens living in the UK will be legally required to prove their status, and the UK government launched the EU settlement scheme in 2019.
However, the application system is digital-only and the UK government plans to give EU citizens a digital code only to prove their residency.
The report by the New Europeans campaign group, based on responses to a survey from over 260 individuals – conducted in English, Italian, Romanian and Polish – found that 38% of respondents had to access information in another language other than English to make their application and understand their status.
“The majority of our respondents knew that such a scheme exists, but had no further details,” the report found.
It also points out that although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted outreach and advice services supporting Europeans to apply to the EUSS, the June 2021 deadline to apply has not been extended.
The report recommends that paper application forms should be introduced to “make sure that everyone has fair and equal access to the process,” and that a physical document proving their status would ensure that pre-settled status holders do not miss the expiry date and upgrade to settled status.
A report published by the 3million campaign group earlier this year found that 89% of EU citizens are unhappy about the lack of a physical document to prove their status.
UK lawmakers in the House of Commons, where the Conservative government has an 80 seat majority, rejected an amendment to immigration legislation which would give EU citizens physical proof of their new immigration status.
Despite this, two parliamentary committees have done so, with one warning that by not offering hard-copy documentation the Settlement Scheme had “clear parallels with Windrush”, a reference to the scandal which saw dozens of Britons wrongfully deported by the Home Office.
The Home Office argues that “moving to a digital status is a step forward in tackling those who seek to control others.”
However, the survey found that since many EU residents who are elderly or from vulnerable social groups lack the “necessary skills and technology for digital engagement and usage,” the EUSS risks creating “situations of dependency”.
The EU Settlement Scheme has now received more than 4.2 million applications, of which 55% of concluded applications were granted settled status and 42% were granted pre-settled status.
22,400, equivalent to 0.6% of applications, were refused.
The UK government says that the Settlement Scheme is more generous than that offered to Britons by many EU member states.
The Scheme allows EU citizens and their family members who have been resident in the UK to apply for either settled or pre-settled status, enabling them to remain resident in the UK and keep the same rights they currently have beyond 30 June 2021.
However, the lack of clarity over exactly how many EU nationals are living in the UK – the number of applicants is already more than the Home Office impact assessment in March 2019 which gave an estimate of between 3.5 million and 4.1 million residents –
In its response to MPs, the Home Office stated that “a very small minority of applicants have experienced some issues with their application [and] we are satisfied that our processes for managing these issues have operated well”.