A pilot study begins today in the north-west allowing the first European citizens to apply for ‘settled status’ to secure their right to stay in the UK after Brexit. Under ‘settled status’ non-British Europeans will be able to continue working and living in the UK indefinitely.
NHS workers in the north-west of England and staff and students from the three Liverpool universities are being invited to take part in the trial scheme. Up to 4,000 people are expected to apply during the pilot which will help the Home Office to work on any issues which arise before the scheme is rolled out nationally by the end of the year.
In order to apply EU citizens will need to have lived in the UK for at least five years by the end of 2020. However, those who have arrived by December 31, 2020 can apply for a ‘pre-settled status’ until they have been resident in the UK for five years – when they will then be able to upgrade to full settled status.
Each application will cost £65 per adult and £32.50 per child. This fee also applies to students.
The process is intended to be much simpler and more user-friendly than the previous process for applying for permanent residency. EU applicants will need to prove their identity and residence in Britain before the cut-off date, upload a photo and declare any criminal convictions.
The trial scheme has been particularly welcomed by the NHS in the north west. Estephanie Dunn, Reginal Director for the College of Nursing in the region said: “EU nurses contribute significantly to the regions health and social care and bring with them a huge range of skills, expertise and knowledge. The risk of losing this workforce would be devastating. We therefore welcome the opportunity to get this process moving in our region at the earliest opportunity as providing these nurses the ability to plan their futures cannot be underestimated as a mechanism to stem the flow of EU nurses from the UK.
“For the participating Trusts, we see it enabling them to put more robust workforce planning in place and deploy the right numbers of staff with the right skills and abilities to deliver safe care.”
However, there are also questions about the cost of the application particularly for students. Feidhelm Doolin, President of Liverpool Hope University Students’ Union believes that the scheme should be free or that students should at least be offered a concession.
There are concerns across the sector about the absence of detail in the government’s plans. The lack of certainty for many continues to be concerning and cause frustration.
Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg, PhD student at the University of Manchester expressed a mistrust in the government for disabled people particularly: “I am waiting to see the details of how the rights of disabled EU27 citizens are to be protected under the new regime. It’s not just about securing my right to stay in the UK, it is also about people’s future access to healthcare, social care and medication.”
So, for the Home Office to make the most of the pilot, it needs to share its learnings working openly and collaboratively with civil society to design the main scheme so it is accessible to the greatest number of EU citizens – and in particular the vulnerable groups identified by the Migration Observatory– as possible.
Before then, the Home Office urgently needs to provide assurances to EU citizens that even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, their rights will be protected. Many people feel very disappointed that the Home Office didn’t use its first tranche of ‘no deal’ technical notices to send a clear message to EU citizens in Britain and UK citizens in Europe.
The Home Office must offer a clear, unilateral guarantee that settled status will still hold in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. And it should signal its intent to seek agreement with the EU that the citizens’ rights element of the withdrawal agreement will be ringfenced if the wider withdrawal agreement fails.
Further information on the EU settlement scheme including details of how to apply can be found in the government’s toolkit.