Lack of information threatening post-Brexit citizens’ status

More efforts are needed to inform Irish and other EU citizens living in the UK, as well as British residents in the EU, of what changes for them, and what they need to do to secure their status post-Brexit, a parliamentary committee heard this week.

On June 6, the House of Commons Exiting the European Union committee held a session on how to establish legal certainty for those who will be subject to a different set of rights as a result of the UK departure from the EU (video). Despite the publication of the draft withdrawal agreement in March and the promise of a new ‘settled status’ for EU nationals by the British government, there are still many unresolved issues, and there is no clarity on how the agreement on citizens’ rights will work in practice.

“We noticed many people completely disengaged from the Brexit process and the new immigration scheme,” said Barbara Drozdowicz, CEO of the East European Resource Centre. She said there are concerns many might not register for the new system planned in the UK, as they do not understand why they should go through the process after having lived, worked and paid taxes in the country for decades.

Another problem is the cost of the application, about 75 GBP per person, an amount that could be difficult to sustain for an entire family on a low income, said Ms Drozdowicz. In addition, it is not clear who should apply and pay for vulnerable groups, such as children in care.

Information is lacking also for Irish citizens, said Dr Mary Tilki of Irish in Britain. Unlike other EU nationals, they won’t be required to apply for ‘settled status’, as the UK and Ireland will mantain the pre-EU Common Travel Area after Brexit. But Dr Tilki mentioned anecdotal evidence that Irish residents are starting to have problems proving their rights and accessing public services in the country. Separate information is needed for the Irish community, she argued: “It has to be clear that Irish citizens have other rights.” She also called for tailored information for the elderly, who might not use computers or have internet.

The3million group of EU nationals in the UK sent the Home Office a list of questions on the future ‘settled status’. According to media reports, the Home Office should have provided more details on how this will work on Wednesday 13 June, but this has now been postponed.

Similarly, British residents in the EU wonder what procedures EU countries will put in place to confirm their status. According to The Guardian, 10 countries intend to implement a similar system to that planned by the UK. But countries with a relatively small British population consider new procedures an unnecessary burden.

Fiona Godfrey, Chair of British Immigrants living in Luxembourg (BRILL), said that for the EU27 the British community “is just an administrative problem,” not a political one. Difficulties are however likely to emerge in France, the only country among the EU27 where registration is not mandatory. “Because there is no requirement to register, people have no experience of being in touch with the French administrative authorities,” said Kalba Meadows, Founder of Remain in France Together (RIFT). She said RIFT has seen a surge of questions posted in social media accounts in the last month. She also told the committee that the British community is scattered across the country and not always easy to reach, and within in, there are low-income groups who will need support.

Michael Harris, Chair or EuroCitizens in Spain, explained that the Spanish authorities are encouraging people to register, but Britons spending only few months per year in the country are probably not aware of what they should do.

The EU and the UK have committed to carry out communications campaigns on the outcomes of the negotiations and the UK Home Office has invited people to register to email updates. It is unlikely, however, that these efforts will reach all those whose status is changing.

At the same time, the withdrawal agreement is not finalised yet. Outstanding issues for EU nationals in the UK are the automatic right to be joined in the country by future foreign spouses and family members, as well as mechanisms for the enforcement of the deal. As regards British in Europe, the current deal does not include free movement rights in the EU27 and the recognition of professional qualifications beyond the host country. Many are concerned about the future rights of their children, according to a survey by British in Europe.

These topics should be covered in the second stage of Brexit talks, when the discussion will focus on the EU-UK trade agreement. But negotiations won’t start until the ‘exit’ deal is finalised and a solution is found to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This would be necessary to ensure custom controls, as the UK intends to leave both the single market and the EU customs union.

It is also not clear what will happen to the rights of people living on the two sides of the Channel if there is no exit deal.

 

Claudia Delpero all rights reserved.
Photo via Pixabay.

This article was initially published on June 10 2018 and was revised on June 11 as information from the Home Office on ‘settled status’ is being delayed.

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