“This Is Our Home”: The Europeans Who Want To Stay In The UK”:

Who would live in Britain now if they could go elsewhere?” That was the question posed by the Observer columnist, Barbara Ellen, in the newspaper on 17th January. For her, it seemed logical that many foreign-born workers might be looking at a country which is “not only undervaluing and demonising them but is also badly screwing up the pandemic” and so are concluding they should book “a one-way ticket home”. The big problem for this post-Brexit isle, declared Ellen, won’t be keeping people out but convincing (even begging) them to stay.

It appears, however, that this is not at all what has happened. On the contrary, as the Economist magazine noted in its January 9th /15th edition, although many commentators predicted a stampede of Europeans out of the UK following the Referendum on 23rd June 2016, statistics issued by the Home Office on 30th November showed that 4.48 million EU citizens had by then applied for settlement status in the UK.

As Madeleine Sumption, the Director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told the Economist, “the longer a migrant stays in a country, the less likely they are to leave”. An example of this, cited later in the article, is the case of a French citizen, Caroline le Luel, who had moved with her family from Paris to London in 2005. While acknowledging that they “don’t see the UK as much of a cool place as it used to be”, she emphasised that they nevertheless want to stay here: “This is our home”.

Obtaining permission to stay in the UK on the basis of the “EU Settlement Scheme” is nevertheless not a simple matter. The gov.uk website states, somewhat confusingly, that “the deadline for applying,if you meet the criteria, is 30th June 2021, but that you must usually have started living in the UK by 31st December 2020. Up to November 20th 2020, 54% (2,422,100) of the 4.48 million had been granted “settled status”, 43% (1,936,500) “pre-settlement”, 0.8% (33,700) had been refused, 1% (47,000) had been withdrawn or declared void and 1% (49,100) considered invalid.

The nationalities with the highest number of applications were: Polish, 80% of whom were given settlement status, 18% pre-settlement and 2% refused; Romanians (34%, 62%, 4%), Italians 42%, 56%, 2%, Portuguese (59%, 38%, 3%) and Spanish (46%, 52%, 2%).

Some clarification on the difference between the two main categories is provided by the “3 Million organisation”, which is campaigning to “give a voice to EU citizens in the UK”. It explains that they, along with those from Switzerland and EEA nations (Iceland, Norway & Liechtenstein) and their family members can request settlement status if they have lived in the UK for at least five years, and during that time spent less than 6 months abroad in any 12-month period. This constitutes “continuous residence” with the same rights to live, work and healthcare as UK citizens, though it can be revoked if they commit a serious criminal offence and they will lose it if they leave the UK for five consecutive years.

By contrast, as the “3 Million” points out, an “eligible applicant” who has been in the UK for less than five years will only obtain “pre-settlement status” lasting 5 years, which they will lose if they leave the country for 2 consecutive years or spend more than 6 months abroad in any 12-month period, in which case their only option will be to try to obtain a visa under the new immigration rules”. They can request “full settlement” after 5 years of “continuous residence”, but must do so before their current status expires.

The “3 Million” is particularly concerned that those in the pre-settlement category are not benefiting from the “equal treatment” rights promised in the UK/EU “Withdrawal Agreement”. This “has caused a lot of hardship, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people have lost their jobs and face destitution without access to Universal Credit and other help from the Government”.

Another major preoccupation is that EU students who enrolled with UK universities for courses starting in 2020 but have been following them remotely from their own countries due to Covid-19, could be refused pre-settlement status and so will have to apply for a visa costing £348 plus £470 a year to be able to use the NHS.

The Guardian’s education correspondent, Lisa O’Carroll, reported on 27th November that the Home Office had given “no indication it would be addressing these exceptional circumstances”. The “3 Million” consider this to be “extraordinarily unfair” as these students have been attending, via Zoom and other conference apps, the same lectures, handing in the same assignments, participating in the same groups as their counterparts already in the UK.

The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) based in Swansea, Wales, prior to a virtual media conference with the Foreign Press Association (FPA) on 28th January, released a statement emphasising that, subsequent to the end of the Brexit transition period, it has the responsibility and power to protect EU citizens living in both Britain and Gibraltar.

The IMA will thus be ensuring that their rights, relating to residency, employment, recognition of professional qualifications and social security, are respected by all UK public bodies – including HM Revenue and Customs, the Courts, local councils, the NHS, the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Home Office itself.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Politics | Posted on January 22nd, 2021 by Colin D Gordon

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