Many Europeans living in the UK fear they may end up on the wrong side of the immigration system after the deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme today (30 June).
According to the Gov.uk site if you’re an “EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, you (and your family) can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. You can also apply if you’re the family member of an eligible person of Northern Ireland.”
If your application is successful, you are granted either settled or pre-settled status.
Yet, huge numbers of Europeans settled here have still not yet applied for settled status, hundreds of thousands of people are part of a backlog and are anxiously awaiting a response from the Home Office, and even those who have been granted settled status are uneasy about their future.
Despite receiving 10,000 applications a day in just the last few days, and pleas from more than 40 charities to reconsider, the UK’s immigration minister, Kevin Foster, has ruled out extending the deadline past today.
Marty Ruczynska came to the UK from Poland in 2007 at the age of 12. Though she has been through the British education system, including GCSEs and A Levels, and spent more than half her life here with no plans to ever move to Poland, she needed to apply for settled status, along with her parents who own their home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.
“We had to apply to stay in our home, basically. This is my home,” she says.
The process took two months and she received a confirmation email to say she had been successful.
She says: “That’s your proof of the fact that you’ve got settled status, it’s just so strange. We printed out the emails so we have a hard copy but there should be something better than an email right?”
At least 100,000 EU citizens claiming benefits such as income support, children’s allowance and Universal Credit in the UK had still not applied for the EU settlement scheme as of last week.
Despite promises to the contrary before the Brexit vote in 2016, people from the 27 EU member states or the 30 countries that form the European Economic Area (EEA) are required to apply for settled status in order to keep living in the UK.
Anyone who does not submit an application by the end of today could lose their home, job and is even at risk of being deported.
This applies no matter how long someone has lived here and whether they previously were told they could stay, for example if they had previously received a permanent residence card.
Marty does plan to eventually apply for British citizenship but at a cost of £2,000 — and a lot of hurdles including an English language test (even if you are a native speaker like she is) and the controversial Life in the UK test — it is not an easy decision.
“I think it’s more on the cards now because of what happened with Windrush,” she says.“I just do not trust this government to not one day turn around and be like, we’re just not going to honour [settled status]. I don’t believe them, basically.”
She said the Home Office lost her grandmother’s ID, which she was required to send off as part of her application, and her family needed to pay for a new passport for her from the Polish Embassy.
This was a big fear for 29-year-old food stylist, Alyssa Owens, a Canadian-American living in London with a Slovenian passport.
She was one of an estimated one-fifth of people who needed to send off their documents, which she found “unsettling”.
She says: “You’re taught from a young age to hold on to your passport like it’s an extra limb, so to have to just send it off in the post to a big government office and not a direct person… you don’t know if it’s going to get put in the right box or if it’s going to sit there for weeks because someone’s on holiday and it’s just kind of out there, getting stolen or whatever it may be.”
She did get her passport back and was given pre-settled status, which allows her to be in the UK for up to five years. After that, under current rules, she would need to re-apply.
Owens had help from an immigration lawyer and still found the process stressful. She worries that it would be even more difficult for someone who is not digitally savvy or who speaks English as a second language.
She says: “I’m obviously a fluent English speaker, and I can only imagine [what the application is like for] someone who moved here and maybe English isn’t their first language or they don’t have the right resources, they’re not sure where to turn or ask for advice. I can imagine it can be quite challenging.”
One place people are able to get advice is Settled, an independent charity helping EU citizens apply to stay in the UK.
Alec Herron, who works for the charity, says: “We know a lot of people are coming to this very late, our staff and volunteers are overwhelmed.”
In the last 28 days, traffic to the charity’s website is up as much as 40%.
“For one reason or another, a lot of people are finding out about this very late and then other people are realising it applies to them.
“A lot of people may have had permanent residence cards and lived here since the 60s or 70s and are just finding out those permanent residents cards expire tomorrow. A lot of people will have got those permanent residence cards in the wake of the Brexit referendum, and assume that that secures the future.”
Those who have applied have come across numerous problems, he says.
“With some people, it’s difficult proving their residency, because they may not have a very settled life. They might have moved employment a lot, may have been sleeping in different people’s spare rooms, and so don’t necessarily have proof of residence.”
He says mistakes are also being made, which is expected for a system that is processing five million applications, especially with children.
“But when that happens, it’s very, very worrying. So an example we had a couple of months ago, was an Italian family, two parents, two kids. Three of them got pre-settled status accepted and the 10 year old girl didn’t.”
He is urging anyone who has family members or friends from the EU or the EEA to check they had applied.
He adds: “Just tell them about it and tell them Settled.org is here to help if they have some issues.”