Coronavirus and the EU Settlement Scheme

Coronavirus and the EU Settlement Scheme

Since the June 2016 EU referendum, the British government has been under pressure from all sides to guarantee the rights of approximately three million EU and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals living in the UK.

On 26th June 2017, the UK Government published "The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union: Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU .  This EU Settlement Scheme is essentially the UK Government's "offer" to EEA nationals who are currently residing in the UK who wish to remain in the country post-Brexit.

The essence of the offer being made by the British government is this: 

  • EU/EEA nationals who have been living in the UK for five or more years may be invited to apply for Settled Status 
  • EU/EEA nationals who have arrived in the UK before the cut-off date (see below) but have not completed five years' residence by the time Britain leaves the EU, may apply for a temporary residence permit so they can extend their right to reside to the point when they can apply for Settled Status (i.e. five years)
  • Dependent family members of an EEA national residing in the UK may apply for Settled Status after five years, so long as the EEA national qualifies and those dependent family members arrive before the cut-off date.

As of March 2020, 1.3 million EU/EEA citizens had obtained Pre-Settled Status.

What is the cut-off date for applying for Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status?

The cut-off date is 31 December 2020.  EU/EEA nationals arriving after this date will be subject to new immigration rules.  These are essentially the same as those that currently apply to non-EU/EEA migrants.  For example, those who wish to work in the UK will need to have a genuine job offer from an employer who is an approved sponsor.  The job you are offered will need to be at a required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level). You must also speak English and in most cases, you will need to earn a minimum of £25,600.

If I have already applied for a Permanent Residence Card, do I have to reapply for Settled Status?

Unfortunately, yes.  Around 150,000 EU citizens went through the complicated process of applying for Permanent Residence Cards as a means of securing their future in the UK.  Many expressed their extreme disappointment at having to apply again for Settled Status.

However, the process of applying for Settled Status is less complicated than the application for permanent residency, which required applicants to fill in an 85-page document and provide up to five years' worth of supporting evidence in the form of payslips, tax returns, etc. 

I could not apply for a Permanent Residence Card because I am a stay-at-home Mum and do not have Comprehensive Sickness Insurance.  Will I be able to apply for Settled Status?

Comprehensive Sickness Insurance is not be required to gain Settled Status.  The requirement that EU/EEA nationals exercising EU Treaty rights as a student or self-sufficient person had to have five years of continuous Comprehensive Sickness Insurance to be eligible for a Permanent Residence Card was fiercely criticized by the European Commission.  The Commission launched an inquiry into the treatment of EEA nationals seeking permanent residency, partly based on the inflexible approach the British government had taken on the issue of Comprehensive Sickness Insurance.

Lack of support for EU Settlement Scheme Applicants during the Coronavirus

As illustrated above, applying for Settled Status and Pre-Settled Status is much simpler under the EU Settlement Scheme, as long as your application is straightforward.  However, for those who have complex immigration situations, do not have ready access to the internet, have learning disabilities, or are not reasonably fluent in English, or vulnerable in some other way, applying under the scheme can be complicated at best, impossible at worst.

It has been accepted that there will be people who will not apply under the EU Settlement Scheme before the deadline of 30 June 2021 expires.  However, Coronavirus may increase these numbers.  During the pandemic, vulnerable people, especially those who are elderly, are advised not to leave their houses.  This could result in some not visiting an immigration lawyer or their local Citizen's Advice Bureau (at the time of writing, most of these were not giving face-to-face advice).  Furthermore, support services such as Settled, established to help EU/EEA nationals apply for Settled or Pre-Settled Status, have had to postpone information events due to the difficultly in effectively managing social distancing.

Those who have gained Pre-Settled Status have also been put at risk because some are being denied access to public funds.

Can I claim Universal Credit if I have lost my job and only have Pre-Settled Status?

The 3Million group, which campaigns for the rights of EU/EEA citizens in the UK has recently written to Thérèse Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, and Priti Patel, Home Secretary, over concerns that those who only hold Pre-Settled Status are at risk of being unable to access unemployment benefits.  3Million claim that this breaches Britain's obligations under the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The Financial Times reports that 3Million wrote:

Citizens with pre-settled status €” who have been granted the legal right to reside in the UK €” are being discriminated against compared to British citizens.  This appears to be in contravention of the UK's obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.

Refusals appear to be based on Pre-Settled Status holders failing the habitual residence test required to get Universal Credit.  The Department of Work and Pensions has denied 3Million's claims, stating that Pre-Settled Status holders who have been refused can seek to have the decision reversed.

In summary

This article shows that although the EU Settlement Scheme has greatly improved the ease of applying to stay in the UK after Brexit for many people, by shortening the form and abolishing the need for Comprehensive Medical Insurance, COVID-19 has created problems for those with Pre-Settled Status and vulnerable EU/EEA nationals.

If you are unsure about applying under the EU Settlement Scheme or feel your rights as a Pre-Settled Status holder are being compromised, it is vital that you contact an experienced immigration Solicitors.  They can assist you over the phone or via WhatsApp or Zoom to ensure you get the legal advice you need.

 

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