COVID-19 pandemic poses new risks to EU citizens in UK, rights groups warn

Residents arriving in England from 22 ‘red list’ hotspot countries with new variants of COVID-19 will have to quarantine in hotels at their own expense, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday (27 January). [Danny Howard/Flickr]

The coronavirus pandemic risks creating new problems and uncertainty for potential applicants to the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme and those who have already been given pre-settled status, citizens’ rights groups have warned Boris Johnson’s government.

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel published on Tuesday (30 June), 30 charities and organisations called for a series of amendments to the Settlement scheme.

Pre-settled status applicants should be given “automatic right to reside” so they can access social security benefits and housing support, they added.

People given pre-settled status risk being shut out of accessing the UK’s social security and benefits schemes, and civil society groups say that this could force people to return to work, regardless of their health or potential vulnerability to the coronavirus.

They have also asked for guarantees that EU nationals who temporarily left the UK for their home country because of the pandemic will still be allowed to apply.

“We are concerned that the government has not taken appropriate steps or made the adequate adjustments to the EUSS necessary to protect EU citizens and family members from COVID-19,” the letter added.

Meanwhile, a number of campaign groups have expressed concern that the residency status of thousands of children in the UK could be left unclear under the current scheme.

A report by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre on Wednesday (1 July) urged the government to ensure that none of the estimated 900,000 children of EU citizen parents living in the UK are denied residency rights under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).

This week UK lawmakers laid a cross-party amendment to the Johnson government’s Immigration Bill that would guarantee citizenship rights to the estimated 9,000 children and young people in the UK’s care system who are eligible under the EUSS. So far, UK local authorities have secured status for fewer than 500 of them.

The deadline for applications under the EUSS is now one year away, although if no trade and political agreement is agreed between the UK and EU, the deadline will mirror the post-Brexit transition period and end in December 2020.

There are fears that the coronavirus pandemic and loopholes pose a risk to thousands of EU nationals living in the UK.

The UK government says that its EU Settlement Scheme launched in 2019 for EU nationals living in the UK is more generous than that offered to Britons by many EU member states.

The Scheme allows EU citizens and their family members who have been resident in the UK to apply for either settled or pre-settled status, enabling them to remain resident in the UK and keep the same rights they currently have beyond 30 June 2021.

More than 3.6 million applications have been filed, of which over 3.3 million have been granted status, according to the Home Office.

However, while 57% have been granted settled status, 41% have been given pre-settled status which only grants five years of residency, after which they will have to apply again. Of the remaining applications, 28,900 received a withdrawn or void outcome, 14,100 were invalid and 900 were refused, according to the Home Office.

Polish (697,900), Romanian (590,100) and Italian (363,600) nationals have submitted the highest number of applications.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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