I secured an Urgent Question today, bringing the Immigration Minister to Parliament to answer questions on the EU Settlement Scheme the day before applications for the scheme close tomorrow.
I raised concerns over those who may not have applied – particularly in vulnerable groups such as children in care, older and disabled people, survivors of domestic abuse and others being left without status – becoming undocumented migrants and losing their rights in the UK. The Home Office’s own figures suggest, for example, that a third of looked after children have yet to have an application completed for them.
I called on Government to extend the EUSS deadline “before it’s too late”, and we risk “a Windrush-style scandal” due to a lack of knowledge about the scheme because of the Government’s insufficient communication about it during the news-saturated pandemic. I also urged the Government take steps to proactively identify and support non-applicants in this time, providing better support for those who may have difficulty applying. Labour has called for a three-month extension to the EUSS deadline as fears mount over the number of vulnerable people who are suspected to not have applied to the scheme.
I questioned the Minister over those who make a late application on “reasonable grounds” as permitted by the Home Office. Officials have confirmed that they will have no immigration status while they wait for their application to be concluded. These cases are more likely to be complex and therefore applications could take a long time to be processed. In the meantime, Ministers must provide information on what is being done to ensure that this temporary lack of status does not stop their access to benefits, to medical care, to housing or to employment in the UK.
I raised the lack of knowledge of the scheme, with only one in three landlords aware of the scheme and what it means for them, and business groups such as the FSB and UK Hospitality are calling for more information for employers about the scheme so they don’t fall foul of fines for not completing the correct checks. The confusion means that there are widespread concerns that employers will lean on the side of caution and avoid employing EU nationals as they’re unsure of their responsibilities, leading to serious discrimination.
Some applications may miss the deadline because of problems with Home Office hotlines and we’ve seen glitches cause people to be registered under the wrong name, and border force unaware of how to process those with status – so the Government must extend the EUSS deadline, and use the time to fix their mistakes, reach out to those who haven’t yet applied, and ensure no one becomes an undocumented migrant overnight through no fault of their own.
Ministers should also now finally admit that physical proof of status is needed, to make it easier for EU citizens to navigate the many instances in which they will need to evidence their status.
I was disappointed that the Minister avoided answering key questions about the status of those who make late applications, and that he didn’t agree to extend the deadline, but I’ll keep pushing on the issues.
You can read my full speech here, watch a clip below, hear me on Radio 4 here discussing the problems with the scheme, and read an article about the Urgent Question in the Independent here and in PoliticsHome here.