Report on the impact to EEA and Swiss nationals

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:15 am ar 16 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 11:15, 16 Mehefin 2020

I believe that it is appropriate to speak to new clause 25 as part of this grouping. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has already explained his commitment to and passion for new clauses 10 and 11. Our new clause 25 is not dissimilar to new clause 9. New clause 25 is tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, who is the shadow Home Secretary, and myself and my hon. Friends.

New clause 25 focuses on the need to put to bed some of the anxieties of those who will not have had their status confirmed by the time the transition period ends at the end of this year. When free movement ends, eligible EEA and Swiss nationals will still have until the end of the grace period to apply for status through the EU settlement scheme, which does not close until the end June 2021. With this in mind, all the conversations we have had with those European citizens who have either applied or are planning on applying to the settlement scheme have centred on what their status will be between the end of free movement and their status being granted, which could happen up until the end of June 2021 and, in some cases, beyond that.

The new clause asks the Government to put together a report on the status and rights of people during that window and to lay it before both Houses for consideration. We are calling on the Government to recognise the genuine sense of vulnerability felt by people who may fall into that category and to provide some assurance, in a report to Parliament, guaranteeing that those people, who are eligible, will have a lawful status and not be disadvantaged during those six months.

I asked Luke Piper, immigration lawyer and head of policy at the3million, about this issue in last week’s evidence session. It is a top priority for him and his group. He told the Committee:

“The Bill brings freedom of movement to an end at the end of this year, but it is not clear what legal status people will have between the end of the transition period, which is at the end of the year, and the end of June—the end of the grace period. There has been no clarity about, or understanding of, what legal rights people will have. We have simply been told that certain checks, such as on the right to work, will not be undertaken, but it is not clear to us or our members how people will be distinguished, both in practice and in law.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 61, Q125.]

EU citizens in the UK have already endured a lot of uncertainty about their futures and are now also facing insecurity on their lawful status. The suggestion that employers or landlords should not be checking to confirm their personal status during this grace period seems to be an approach fraught with potential problems. I am keen to hear what engagement Ministers have with employers and landlords on this issue, and how any suspension of the hostile environment will be managed. Last December, the3million commissioned a survey on EU citizens’ experience of the settlement scheme. It was the largest survey of its kind and indicated that they are already facing barriers, with 10.9% of respondents saying they have already been asked for proof of settled status, even though it is not yet a requirement.

Although this new clause focuses on the rights of those who apply after the transition ends and who get their status before the EUSS deadline, there will presumably then be a group of particularly vulnerable people who apply before the deadline ends but who do not get their status until after the end of June 2021. What happens, for example, if they apply on 20 June 2021, which is before the deadline, but do not get confirmation of their status until 20 July, which is after the end the transition period and the closure of the EUSS? What are the rights and status of that cohort of people?

Although the numbers coming through are good, we know that lots of people are still yet to apply. As we have heard, we will never know exactly how many people are in that category. We will never know whether there is going to be a surge towards the end of the scheme, which will make this a bigger problem than many of us would like. When asked about the numbers and types of people who will struggle to apply on time, Luke Piper said:

“Much as with the number of people due to apply for the scheme, we do not know. We have no idea of the exact number of EU citizens who need to apply under the EU settlement scheme, so we will not have an understanding of the number of people who miss the deadline.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 62, Q126.]

Coronavirus has resulted in dedicated Home Office phone lines being closed, an inability to receive hard copies of documentation and specialist support services being stopped, impacting on the progress being made. The BMA has said that some doctors working tirelessly on the frontline may be in that cohort of people who have to leave things until next year, simply because they will be working flat out for the foreseeable future. After the transition period comes to an end, thousands of people might not have confirmation of their status.

Recent research by the3million on young Europeans living in London made some concerning findings. The focus group was the first time that some participants had heard about the EU settlement scheme, and a majority had not applied to it, despite being viewed as an easy to reach group because of their education and digital literacy. The new clause’s proposed report on that group’s rights between the end of the transition period and the EU exit deadline would be of great assistance in clarifying the status and rights of those harder-to-reach groups. It would also assist in getting them to submit their applications towards the end of the scheme.

It is important to note that, after the deadline, the EU settlement scheme will not close in practice, because people with pre-settled status will need to apply for settled status, and it will also be used by people will be joining family members in the UK after the deadline. Moreover, we will still be processing those applications that arrive on time but that will have to wait until the other side of the deadline for a decision to be issued.

Inevitably, the problem is the hostile environment and the long, dark shadow of the Windrush scandal. The fear brought about by the absence of a clear framework of rights and migration status for EEA and Swiss nationals between September 2020 and June 2021 is all too real. We therefore ask the Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the UK during the grace period. EU citizens who have contributed and given so much to our society and country deserve to have security and confidence in their status.