EXCL Home Office 'risking another Windrush' as hundreds of carers face post-Brexit uncertainty
Hundreds of single parents and carers could be swept up in the Home Office's "hostile environment" immigration policy unless they are given fresh guarantees on their post-Brexit rights, the Government has been warned.
Ministers have been urged to "come clean" after months without an update on how the UK's estimated 1,700 "Zambrano carers" - relied on by children and vulnerable adults across the country - will be protected after Britain leaves the European Union.
A 2011 EU ruling grants parents and carers from outside the European Economic Area the right to temporarily live and work in the UK if nobody else is able to look after their child or dependent who already lives here.
Campaigners say the so-called Zambrano immigration route - named after the 2011 case - offers a lifeline to people who could otherwise be forced to leave the country, and allows children and dependent adults who have no relatives in the UK to be looked after.
But the Home Office has been criticised for giving no public update on the carers' post-Brexit rights since June last year, when it promised more details in "due course".
Meanwhile Labour MEP Julie Ward says she has yet to receive a reply to a letter sent two months ago to Home Secretary Sajid Javid demanding answers on the issue.
Mr Javid was told in the December 6 letter: "Details of the proposed scheme are vital for Zambrano carers to plan for the consequences of Brexit.
"It will be important for them to know the potential costs of the proposed scheme and the documentation or evidence they will need to provide.
"We are sure you will appreciate the preparations that individuals may need to make now in order to ensure they can afford to apply and evidence their rights to remain in the UK."
Ms Ward told PoliticsHome that the status of the Zambrano carers "must be resolved immediately".
"The future for thousands of families is still unclear and uncertain, as Zambrano carers are not a part of the Withdrawal Agreement or in the government's ill-thought out Immigration Bill," she said.
"It is yet again a clear indication of how badly the government has handled Brexit and treatment of UK citizens in the process."
Stephen Doughty, who sits on parliament's cross-party Home Affairs Committee, meanwhile said the situation appeared to be "another example of the complexity caused by Brexit that the Home Office simply hasn’t prepared for".
The Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "It is crucial that so called Zambrano carers have their status clarified urgently - not least when the well being of children and young people is at stake.
"I will be contacting the Home Office to ask for urgent clarification and appropriate discretion to be used to help provide certainty for these individuals and those they care or have effective guardianship responsibility for."
A Home Office spokesperson said the department recognised the need for "certainty" among Zambrano carers and vowed to provide an update on their rights shortly.
They said: "The residence rights of Zambrano carers are derived from wider EU law, not the Free Movement Directive, and are not protected by the draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. However, we have confirmed that provision will be made for them in the Immigration Rules.
"We appreciate that these individuals need certainty about their future and we will set out further details on the status that will be available to them in due course."
But Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Sir Edward Davey said the Government had still failed to do enough to reassure carers and their families about their immigration status.
And he raised the spectre of the Windrush scandal in which longstanding British residents from the Commonwealth were caught up in an immigration crackdown because of a lack of documentation.
"Ministers must come clean on whether some carers looking after people in the UK, under EU laws, will be allowed to stay here after Brexit," Sir Edward told PoliticsHome.
"The current uncertainty is not just unfair to them, but worrying the vulnerable people they are looking after.
“If these Zambrano carers are left without proper immigration status, they will be subject to Theresa May’s hostile environment.
"Along with those who they care for, they could become the victims of another Windrush scandal."
The Government is also facing calls to guarantee that Zambrano carers will not see a spike in immigration fees if the system for applying to stay in the UK does change after Brexit.
Theresa May last month waived a £65 charge for EU citizens looking to remain in Britain under the Government's separate settled status scheme.
Zambrano carers currently pay a similar fee when they apply to temporarily live and work in the UK.
But one legal expert told PoliticsHome that they feared any decision by the Home Office to bring the Zambrano system into line with the UK's wide-ranging 'Immigration Rules' could see a sharp rise in application costs - putting the route out of the reach of many carers.
Marianne Lague, policy manager at the Coram Children's Legal Centre, said: "The people who are granted this kind of leave are often vulnerable single parents - and it would cost the Home Office very little to simply find a way to recognise the rights of these very few single parents within the settlement scheme while they’re finding a way to regularise the status of 3.6m other [EU citizens].
“But if Zambrano carers are going to be made subject to the Immigration Rules application route the Home Office should consider, in light of its recent choice to abolish the £65 fee for people applying for the EU settlement scheme, why there is such a discrepancy for these other routes and how fees of this magnitude can possibly be justified."
Sir Edward, the Lib Dem frontbencher, meanwhile warned that any move towards higher fees would be seen as "further heartless hypocrisy" from the Government.
"They assured people they would be able to stay after Brexit, yet now the guarantees are all but absent and in their place is a suggestion of charges of thousands of pounds which could force many to leave," he added.