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Keith Vaz MP: EU citizens in UK right to worry over ‘draconian policy’ revealed in leaked Home Office report

5 min read

When tighter immigration rules are suggested there have been spikes in applications and this has already been shown since Brexit, says Keith Vaz MP.

With the passage of the EU withdrawal bill early Tuesday morning the United Kingdom edges closer towards exiting the United Kingdom. In just 561 days the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, and while there is still much that needs to be worked out before this date, what is clear is that the political landscape of the United Kingdom will be dominated by Brexit for the next 18 months.

Last week the Guardian’s leak of the Home Office document on Immigration brought focus back on to the issue of EU citizens in the United Kingdom. This had previously been a major issue in the news at the start of the summer, before Theresa May tried to reassure citizens that they were protected offering settled status to all those who had been in the UK for over 5 years.

The leak appeared to show that government thinking behind closed doors is very different from the guaranteed 2 year transitionary period for all they had previously suggested. Once again the lives of EU citizens across the United Kingdom were thrown into flux.

For EU citizens in the United Kingdom, fear about their status has been present since the decision to leave the European Union in July 2016. It is irrefutable that Immigration was a huge issue during the referendum and last week’s figures showing lower levels of EU migration into the UK demonstrate that Europeans are increasingly wary of coming to the UK. For citizens that were already in the UK, their lives are increasingly impacted by the lack of clarity. Banks are increasingly nervous to grant EU citizen’s mortgages or loans and according to a Residential Landlords survey 1/5 of landlords are reluctant to tenant their homes to EU citizens. 

In the UK there are approximately 3.2million EU citizens in all constituencies. London of course has the highest number of EU citizens with 20,000 in both Tottenham and Kensington alone but there are major hubs with European citizens across the United Kingdom, with over 11,000 EU citizens in Leicester.

 Across business sectors the worth of EU citizens in the United Kingdom is clear. The NHS hires over 60,000 EU nationals across its professions including 10% of our doctors. Both the British Hospitality Association and The National Farmers Union have come out and suggested Government plans will be disastrous. Leaders in the City of London have also come out suggesting that migrants are the lifeblood of any developed economies. The next steps for EU citizens in the United Kingdom are extremely important both for them and the country as a whole.

However, with the citizenship process taking over a year and with the Home Office having a general back log of over 100,000 cases there are rightly concerns as to whether this government has planned properly to see this process through.

Last Tuesday in answer to a question about the future status of EU citizens Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested that EU citizens should not rush to register and stated that the 2 year transitionary period was the reason for this. Mr Davis also cited the cutting of red tape on application processes as a reason for citizens not to worry. Wednesday’s leak however suggested almost the opposite. For low skilled EU workers there may be a grace period of only a year, and the draconian policy within the leak has suggested that EU citizens in the United Kingdom are right to feel worried.

The Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 made a number of recommendations over how to manage this process however these are not being implemented. We should enact these recommendations if we are to effectively manage this process.

  • What we need is clarity, it is essential that we give EU citizens a clear picture of what their future looks like after the UK leaves the EU. This should be provided in a timetable form
  • All EU citizens should check their documents urgently, working out what their current right to remain status is in the UK
  •  Registration for EU citizens should occur at a local authority level. The local council’s already have voter registration details, allowing them to take control of registration would be significantly quicker than relying on central government. This could use the national insurance number of workers and should also occur without a fee.
  •  A specialist unit of the Home Office must be established to deal with the issue of EU nationals applying to remain in order to effectively deal with the increasing number of applications that will be made over the next 18 months. Efforts should also be made to clear backlogs that already exist in the Home Office which could slow down the overall progress
  • Application forms should be cut in size to ensure that the applications can proceed as quickly as possible.
  • When leave to remain is granted all eligible EU citizens should be provided with information as to how they can become British citizens. The current cost of this is £962.

We must address the concerns of EU citizens in the United Kingdom immediately. Previous experience has shown that when tighter immigration rules are suggested there have been spikes in applications and this has already been shown in this case. There have been record numbers of applications for UK citizenship from EU citizens already. Following the above steps would help mitigate the strain on the Home Office and provide a clear and comprehensive answer to what happens to EU citizens after Brexit. It is time to answer these questions once and for all. 

Keith Vaz is the Labour Member of Parliament for Leicester East

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