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Are EU Citizens Being Offered Financial Incentives To Leave The UK?

The Guardian newspaper recently ran an article entitled, “EU citizens offered financial incentives to leave UK: European nationals added to voluntary returns scheme, which can include flights and up to £2,000 for resettlement”. Taken on face value, this may be construed as an attempt by the Home Office to seek out and encourage EU nationals to leave. In this article, we will discuss whether the Government is trying to pay EU nationals to leave the UK, and if so, why.

The Voluntary Returns Scheme

The Voluntary Returns Scheme (VRS) operated by the Home Office is intended to provide financial support for migrants who need help to return to their home country. The scheme has now been changed to enable EU nationals to apply. If successful, applicants are given a payment of up to £2,000, which can be used to find accommodation, work, or start a business in their home country. The scheme is available to migrant in the UK even if they are:

  • Here illegally or have overstayed their visa or permission to stay
  • In a family group with a child under 18 and are in the UK illegally
  • Have withdrawn, or want to withdraw, their application to stay in the UK
  • Have claimed asylum in the UK but now want to withdraw that claim

It is not available for those who:

  • Are being investigated by the police or detained by the Home Office
  • Have been given a prison sentence that’s 12 months or longer
  • Have been convicted of an immigration offence and given a deportation order
  • Have already been given humanitarian protection, indefinite leave to remain or refugee status in the UK
  • Have been told by UK Visas and Immigration that you are a ‘third country case’

Why Is The Addition Of EU Citizens To The VRS Controversial?

It could be argued the Home Office needed to add EU citizens to the VRS following the end of EU/UK free movement. Hence, the financial assistance available to non-EU migrants is now being expanded to included EU migrants post-Brexit. For some, this move is seen as contrary to the stated intention of the Government to encourage EU nationals living in the UK to take up the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) before the deadline of 30th June 2021.

Benjamin Morgan, who represents the EU homeless rights project at the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) believes this is an example of mixed messaging from the Home Office; “It is clear from our casework that some of the most vulnerable EU citizens are yet to resolve their status. Barriers to application and delays in Home Office decision-making remain significant factors. “This mixed messaging around settled status on the one hand and voluntary returns on the other seriously undermines the government’s claim that the rights of vulnerable Europeans will be protected after Brexit”.

This is a reasonable point to make. Rather than focusing on making it easier for EU nationals to leave after 30th June 2021, perhaps more effort needs to be put into educating and supporting those who want to stay but don’t know they need to apply (or how to apply) for the EUSS. The risk is that making it easy for those who want to stay in the UK to leave but have not applied for the EUSS, they may be left with little choice but to leave at the end of June. The Home Office’s view is that they are simply making it easier for those EU nationals who do not wish to remain, to go home; “Some people may choose not to obtain status under EUSS and may not wish to remain in the UK after the deadline. That is why we have written to stakeholders to inform them that EEA nationals who wish to leave the UK may now be eligible for support to help them do so under the voluntary returns scheme”.

More Needs To Be Done To Support And Inform EU Nationals About The EUSS

A recent report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JWCI) entitled, “When the clapping stops: EU Care Workers after Brexit”, finds that an alarming number of EU care workers in the UK still do not understand what the EUSS is (one in seven), or that there is a deadline to apply (one in three). The report also found that 90% did not know where to find help or support regarding the EUSS. The JWCI makes the key point that the loss of even a small amount of carers will have a huge impact on the sector; “If even a tiny fraction of the estimated EEA+ (EU, EEA and Swiss) residents are unable to apply in time, tens of thousands will lose their status overnight,” the report states. Without urgent action, the care sector is likely to be devastated.”

Final Words

It is all too easy to take the view that EU nationals should be able to take immigration matters into their own hands, but many are working in sectors with poor working conditions, pay, and legal protection. And the risk is that if more is not done to actively educate and help those in such situations, there will be a large number of EU nationals in the UK after June 2021 whose immigration status will become illegal overnight, making those individuals criminals.

As Chai Patel of the JCWI states, “Our research scares me because the people we talked to were far less vulnerable than other groups hidden in exploitative working conditions, who no one has been able to reach to ask questions. Despite warnings from us and many other experts, the Home Office is burying its head in the sand about this just like they did with Windrush and making excuses instead of finding solutions”. Comparing the treatment of EU nationals now to the Windrush scandal may seem excessive to some, but there is a real risk of this happening again.

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