Exclusionary post-Brexit EU Settlement Scheme is not fit for purpose
4 min read
This week marks the third anniversary of Brexit. While for some it’s a cause to celebrate or say, “I told you so”, for European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) citizens and their families falling through the cracks of the Home Office system, it is cause for concern.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), which introduced new immigration requirements, is an outcome of the Home Office’s belief that EU/EEA citizens and their families are a homogenous mass of people with the same knowledge, resources and abilities. Set up quickly with poor design, the agenda was to use applicants for testing the Home Office’s “genius” idea to digitalise immigration. In practice, it has deprived people of physical proof of their immigration status.
Many are falling through the cracks and left outside the scope of the scheme
Since EUSS was rolled out, campaigning organisations, immigration professionals and applicants have gathered evidence of many issues related to this digital-only status and complex application process. Applicants have experienced countless problems due to the complexity of the rules for employers, landlords and the welfare system. The Home Office offers no substantial support as their designated helpline, EUSS Resolution Centre, only provides communication in English and Welsh. While designated funding for immigration advice provision exists and is allocated to non-profits, it is constantly being cut and not matching the level of need. As an EUSS adviser supporting vulnerable people, I have not witnessed a decrease in the need – only an increase in complex cases.
I’m often confronted with disoriented families in distress, trying to find help to navigate the hostile environment created by the Home Office. Many are falling through the cracks and left outside the scope of the scheme. I see a sharp increase in queries from EU citizens who are settled in the United Kingdom and, as could happen to any one of us, are struck down with a debilitating illness, accident, or terminal condition. These people find themselves unable to work and need permanent care. The best solution for them would be to receive support in the UK from a close family member. Nevertheless, the rules require that a joining family member over 21 years of age must be dependent financially or medically on their settled sponsor. Consequently, those with a “reversed medical dependency” will find their application refused.
The same goes for a sibling in an EU country who suddenly becomes medically dependent and needs care. I have seen an increase in such situations, where a person settled in the UK is worrying about a sibling abroad. They face legal limbo trying to deal with the sudden death of a family member, having become a carer and needing immigration help. Most cannot afford other costly immigration routes and legal representation due to the complexity of these applications. Meanwhile, the immigration sector lacks capacity and legal aid is continually being cut. Should those who are well settled in the UK, many of whom would call the UK home, be forced to abandon their lives and the lives of their families here to care for a family member abroad? Should they be expected to pay for expensive residential care abroad?
The Home Office must listen to caseworkers on the ground and policy professionals to re-design EUSS so it is fit for purpose and shows basic humanity to those who have settled here. So far, they have yet to consider the strong evidence that shows their digital-only status and exclusionary approach is damaging and dangerous.
EUSS lacks a human approach and a real understanding of people’s realities. These issues, however, are part of a broader set of UK policies that violate the rights of people with experience of migration.
Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC) is part of several campaigns to help organise solidarity and justice for all the migrants in the UK. Whilst we all have different struggles, there are issues that unite us. Solidarity Knows No Borders is a national coalition that welcomes everyone and allies to organise on local and national levels. Meanwhile, Our Home Our Vote is fighting for migrants to have the right to vote in local elections and have their voices heard in decisions that affect them.
Natalia Byer is a community organiser and project manager at Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC).
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