EU Children Risk Becoming Without Leave To Remain Status
The deadline for applications under the EU Settlement Scheme is fast approaching. As of the 1st July 2021, EU nationals living in the UK will no longer be able to secure Pre-Settled or Settled Status, meaning many risk becoming overstayers here. Over the past year, we have reiterated the importance of applying for Settled Status, but we have also pointed out that there are whole groups of EU nationals in our community who may not do so, either because they don’t know about the scheme or understand the rules and deadline. And a recent report by the Children’s Society has flagged that the majority of EU national children in the UK’s care system have not yet had an application under the EU Settlement Scheme made on their behalf, risking another ‘Windrush’ scenario.
Who Are The Children’s Society?
The Children’s Society are a registered UK charity based in London working to eradicate child sexual exploitation, county lines and criminal exploitation, missing children, poverty, refugees and migrants, substance misuse while supporting the well-being, carers, and rights and advocacy of young people. Their goal is to “provide specialist support that empowers young people to make positive changes and rediscover their hope. They want a future they can look forward to, and we’re here to make sure they get it. Working alongside young people, their families and community, we will not rest until together, step-by-step, we’ve created a society built for all children”.
What Are The Findings Of The Children’s Society’s Research Into EU Children In The Care System?
The Children’s Society undertook research into the impact on children of the upcoming cut off for Settlement Scheme (EUSS) applications on 30th June 2021. As a result, they published a report highlighting their findings, entitled, ‘Looked After Children and the EU Settlement Scheme’. The report highlights that many children (often very vulnerable) have found themselves living in the UK unlawfully (e.g. through criminal gangs, sexual exploitation) and may have no idea that they need to apply to the EUSS to protect their right to reside in the UK. In many cases, children will be wholly reliant on another person to apply on their behalf, and if this does not happen, they risk losing their right to remain. As the Children’s Society explains, “Since the introduction of the EUSS, we have raised concerns that many EU national children or the children of EU nationals will find themselves without status come 1st July 2021. We have focused particularly upon looked after children and care leavers, as many may not be able to depend upon their parents to apply on their behalf or will be reliant upon a local authority to do so. These children, many of whom have called the UK home their entire lives and endured difficult life circumstances, will now face the real possibility of a very insecure future”.
To understand the scale of the problem, during 2021 and early 2021, the charity submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to several local authorities, asking them for details on:
- The number of children in their care or eligible for care leaving support who would need to apply to the EUSS;
- How many had already applied to the EUSS (or had this done on their behalf), and;
- The number who had secured status
As a result of the various FOI requests submitted, the Children’s Society found that less than 40% of children classed as ‘looked after’ or ‘care leavers’ who needed to apply to the EUSS had made applications to the scheme (or someone had done so on their behalf). It is believed that around 3,690 looked after children are eligible for EU Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status, of which only 1,426 have had applications made.
Expressing his deep concern, Mark Russell, who is the charity’s Chief Executive is quoted by the Guardian as stating, “We are very concerned, not only that so many children are yet to have applications made for them, but that no one seems to know exactly how many children could be affected”. He also places the responsibility on local authorities and the Home Office to identify these vulnerable individuals as soon as possible to help them apply to the EUSS in time. Clearly, time is now getting very tight with only a few weeks remaining.
As Marieke Widmann, the Children’s Society’s policy and practice adviser, explains, many children living in the UK who are eligible for the EUSS have complicated cases and backgrounds and will be totally reliant on their social worker or legal Guardian to apply on their behalf; “Care leavers are supposed to be supported by the council to ensure they make an application”. The charity also points out, however, that local authorities who are supposed to look after the interests of those in their care do not have the necessary documents or information to make an application, including copies of passports and proof of entry into the UK. Widmann explains, “It can be really tough for them to get these documents having come into care because of difficult family circumstances, like neglect or abuse”.
How Have The Government Responded?
The future borders and immigration minister, Kevin Foster, says the Home Office is working with charities and local authorities to help those affected secure their rightful legal immigration status in the UK; “we are determined to ensure all eligible children and care leavers secure their status” and that it was working closely with charities and local authorities and had been in touch with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Rightly, our focus is on encouraging applications before the 30th June deadline, but we will soon be publishing guidance on reasonable grounds for late applications, which will include looked-after children and care leavers where the local authority or parent or Guardian failed to apply for them”.
The words of the Home Office may offer little reassurance to those trying to ensure that every child who is eligible for the EUSS submits an application in time. While it is likely that the government will not want to see a repeat of the Windrush scandal, the best way to secure the rights of these vulnerable children is to apply before the cut-off date. Everything that can be done to ensure this happens should be in motion now.