Charity launches legal dispute over EU citizens’ ‘settled status’
A migrants’ rights charity has launched legal proceedings on the “settled status” scheme for EU nationals in the UK after Brexit.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a non-profit group campaigning for justice in immigration, nationality and asylum law, is bringing the case to the High Court asking to change the rules that govern “settled status“.
The JCWI argues that new rules contradict promises made by ministers that only EU nationals with serious criminal records will be denied the right to stay in the UK post-Brexit.
New provisions enforced in August require Home Office staff to refuse applications from anyone who has previously been subject to “removal decisions for not exercising EU treaty rights”. This includes not only people who committed serious criminal offences, but also anyone who had or will have a removal order made against them before being granted settled status.
According to the JCWI, such provisions would affect people who, in the past, fell into the Home Office net because they were not working or did not have a genuine prospect of work, they were economically inactive and did not have comprehensive sickness insurance, or they were homeless. New measures would also cover ongoing applications and create ambiguity over future ones.
“This is far broader than what was promised and puts hundreds of thousands of EU nationals at risk who are regarded by the Home Office as not exercising treaty rights. This has nothing to do with criminality let alone serious criminality,” says a JCWI briefing.
The Council claims that the government has broken the repeated promise that “settled status” will be granted to all EU citizens who reside in the UK and who are not serious criminals.
As the UK leaves the European Union, about 3.8 million EU nationals living in Britain will have to apply for settled status to claim their right to stay in the country.
“It is very hard to estimate the numbers of EU nationals who are not exercising treaty rights and could potentially be excluded under new rules,” said Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director. “It is likely many will be able to stay, but it seems the system will be a lottery based on the whim of immigration enforcement.”
Patel is especially concerned that “enforcement actions against EU nationals have increased since the EU referendum and more and more EU nationals, especially the homeless, are being targeted for removal, although in many cases this has proven to be unlawful”.
The JCWI is asking that the inconsistency with the government promise be removed. “The Home Office can change the rules and put things right at any time, even before a court hearing,” Patel told Europe Street.
What is the “EU settlement scheme”
The UK immigration law was amended in July to introduce the “EU settlement scheme” (called “settled status” in the draft withdrawal agreement negotiated by the EU and the UK). Changes allowed up to 4,000 people from universities and NHS Trusts in Liverpool to participate in a managed live trial of the online application system. A second pilot phase will open in November for all EU staff in the higher education and healthcare sectors. New rules will be gradually extended to all EU nationals.
The scheme is expected to be fully operational from 30 March 2019 (Brexit day). All EU nationals will have to apply by 30 June 2021 (6 months after the end of the transition period). Failing to obtain settled status, they may become undocumented migrants.
The new system is necessary because EU nationals could live, study and work in the UK based on EU’s free movement rules that will no longer apply after Brexit.
The UK intends to apply the scheme for all citizens of the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland. Irish nationals won’t need to apply.
Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
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