Many EU Migrants Haven't Heard About the EU Settlement Scheme
Readers familiar with our blogs will know that we have emphasised the importance of applying to the EU Settled Status Scheme if you are an EU national living in the UK. However, recent research by the Social Market Foundation think tank suggests that many EU migrants are unaware of the EU Settlement Scheme. This is deeply concerning as, without knowledge of its purpose, those individuals may find themselves living in the UK without the right of residence after 30th June 2021.
A Worrying Lack of Awareness of the EUSS Amongst EU Nationals in the UK
The study entitled, ‘Best intentions: EU migrant workers in Fenland’, described the area in which they carried out the study as “one of the most deprived parts of the UK and at the heart of the "Leave" vote in the EU Referendum”. The study comprised of a number of interviews of mainly lower-skilled EU migrants living in the region to gauge their awareness and attitudes towards the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
One of the main, and most concerning conclusions of the study is that the EU Settlement Scheme is still “unknown to many migrants, and poorly understood by users”. The study explained further, “Barely half of interviewees were aware of the EUSS. Even among those intending to stay in the UK past the cut off point for applying to the Scheme, over 40% said they were unaware of it”. It was also telling that those interviewed relied on friends, family, and employers to tell them about UK immigration policy. This suggests the way in which the government is communicating information regarding immigration schemes is not reaching the intended audience.
Also of concern was that many of those interviewed who intend to remain lawfully in the UK beyond the transition period did not understand the EUSS or its purpose. While EU nationals do have until 30th June 2021 to submit their EUSS application, there is a genuine concern that many will still not apply, and hence risk losing their residence rights (and those of their immediate family members).
It is possible that this lack of understanding and awareness is rooted in the lack of English language skills. Nearly 60% of respondents needed an interpreter to assist them with the survey, including some who had been in the UK for more than ten years. More needs to be done to ensure that all EU nationals exercising their treaty rights of free movement in the UK, regardless of their language ability, should be informed about the EUSS. The study author believes that employers should play a greater role in ensuring their EU employees are educated on the EUSS.
UK Government May be Underestimating How Many People have not Applied
The Best Intentions study also found something of an anomaly which may lead to the undercounting of EU nationals who have yet to apply to the EUSS. The study found that some of the migrants they spoke to would likely have been miscategorised as short-term migrants, even though they were not. As the publication explains, “10% of the interviewees said that when they arrived in the UK, they initially intended to stay for less than a year but had subsequently decided to stay for longer. The International Passenger Survey used to count migration into/out of the UK would have classified those migrants as ‘short-term migrants’ based on their initial intention of how long they were going to stay, even though they decided to stay longer and therefore turned out to be ‘long-term migrants’. Undercounting of long-term migrants could be off-set by migrants who arrive intending to stay long-term but who then leave after less than a year. However, the Survey found no interviewees who fit that description, and therefore no such offsetting effect”.
For this reason, it is possible that any future estimates by the Home Office of the percentage of EU migrants who have applied may be distorted (or just incorrect) because they are based on a much lower volume of long-term migrants due to the way in which data has been captured.
Vulnerable EU Citizens may “Fall Through the Cracks”
Another report by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, entitled, ‘Unsettled Status – 2020: Which EU Citizens are at Risk of Failing to Secure their Rights after Brexit?’, highlights that many vulnerable are at risk of “falling through the cracks” with regard to the EUSS. It explains that several groups of EU nationals may not have their residence rights secured, including:
- Children of EU citizens – whose parents do not realise they also need to apply under the EUSS for their children
- EU citizens who mistakenly believe they are not eligible – this includes, for examples, people who have been rejected for permanent residency, have been removed from the UK in the past, or who have a criminal record.
- EU citizens with a poor social network
- EU citizens born outside the EU
- EU citizens who are expecting to return home
- Children in care and recent care leavers
- Victims of domestic abuse
- Victims of modern slavery
- People living in poverty
- Homeless people and rough sleepers
- Migrant Roma communities
Furthermore, the Oxford University study found that those with low literacy, poor English language proficiency, low digital literacy, mental health conditions, cognitive disability, and those of advanced years may fall through the cracks of the EUSS.
Given the EUSS has been around since March 2019, it is extremely concerning that many EU migrants still do not understand the importance of applying to the scheme. It is unlikely that the Home Office will do too much more to ensure that those who have yet to apply do so. They may publish a few more social media posts, but this is not going to be enough to reach vulnerable EU citizens living in the UK. It is, therefore, incumbent on charities, employers, local authorities, health and care providers, and universities to play a role in reaching and explaining the importance of applying for the EUSS. If more private and public organisations and institutions play a role in educating EU citizens, the UK will hopefully avoid another Windrush.