UNITED KINGDOM: European citizens who have applied for settled status in the U.K. are being detained and threatened with deportation, a development that contradicts assurances from ministers and appears to contravene the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
The British government, on June 30 closed its European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to new applicants, despite calls from EU citizens’ rights groups for the deadline to be extended.
More than six million EU citizens have applied to formalise their status in the U.K. through the EUSS. However, rights groups believe that as many as 150,000 people have been left behind, with many of those believed to be from Central and Eastern Europe.
False promises to EU nationals
Home Office ministers have repeatedly promised that anyone who had applied by the 30 June deadline would have their existing rights protected and their case heard.
Followed by the promises, the Home Office has served EU nationals with removal directions despite being able to prove that they had made an EUSS application, which protects their rights to remain in the U.K.
Owing to the apparent failure to honour that agreement has called for accusations of either “administrative incompetence” by Home Office officials or a deliberate attempt to deport as many EU nationals as possible on the assumption they are easier to remove, for instance, than asylum seekers.
On Friday an EU citizen who requested anonymity was detained, whom the Home Office wanted to deport, was released on bail after a judge accepted that they could not be removed because they had made an EUSS application. Yet the Home Office contested their release and offered no apology as to why it earlier argued that there was no evidence of the application.
Pierre Makhlouf, legal director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid) said: “It seems that the Home Office has pre-decided the fate of certain EU nationals, perhaps believing that they are easy to remove. But in its drive to deport more people, it is side-stepping legal requirements and procedures.”
Out of 1,500 inmates at Wandsworth prison, south London, almost 500 are believed to be EU nationals.
Settlement scheme – a hindrance for the marginalised
The issue appears to relate mostly to applications sent by post instead of forwarded digitally. Araniya Kogulathas, a barrister and legal manager of Bid’s EEA (European Economic Area) project, said paper applications were used by many vulnerable and marginalised people, including the elderly and those in detention or prison who found it difficult to access a computer or didn’t have access to a valid identity document.
This adds to the point that the settlement scheme appears to have been purposefully designed to prevent many “unskilled migrants” from applying.
Veronica Hera, who focuses on helping Romanians in the U.K., notes that the settlement scheme appears “to facilitate applications from tech-savvy, high-skilled migrants with a very good level of English”.
The EUSS app is only available in English and requires applicants to have access to a computer with internet access, a smartphone, an email address and a phone number: a hindrance for some.