Data access blow for EU nationals with UK immigration cases

The UK government has promised to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. But anxiety reigns. [Danny Howard/Flickr]

EU nationals will be unable to access their personal records held by the UK government in immigration cases, following a high court ruling on Thursday (3 October) that said “immigration exemption” introduced last year was not unlawful.

The 3million organisation, one of the civil society groups campaigning for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, had argued that the immigration exemption introduced in the country’s Data Protection Act (DPA), which came into force in May last year, denies people access to their personal records in immigration cases.

At a legal hearing in July, campaigners argued that the exemption is unlawful and will prevent people from challenging errors made by the Home Office. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in the UK has acknowledged that there is a 10% error rate in immigration status checks.

However, in a ruling on Thursday, Justice Michael Supperstone concluded that the exemption is not unlawful, although he conceded that there was a “particular concern” because EU citizens will have to apply for settled status if they wish to continue living in the UK after Brexit.

In a joint statement with the Open Rights Group, which also took the case forward, 3million said that “millions of EU citizens must navigate the Home Office application process to stay in the UK.

“This exemption removes that ability to correct errors, which could prove decisive in immigration decisions whether to allow a person to remain in the United Kingdom.”

Although the UK government has promised to maintain the residency rights of EU nationals already living and working in the UK there have been a number of cases of EU nationals wrongly being offered pre-settled status.

That only gives them residency status for five years and requires a further application process, rather than the indefinite leave to remain to which they are entitled.

The number of people being given pre-settled status rose from 34% in April, the month of the scheme was officially launched, to 42% in July, according to the Home Office.

EU nationals have until October 2020 to submit their applications for settled status but civil society groups are already talking about scrapping the 2020 deadline, arguing that the application process is going to be far slower than the government thinks. An estimated three million people are yet to apply.

Civil society groups such as New Europeans say that there are a lot more than the 3.5 million EU nationals officially reported by the UK government, pointing to thousands of ‘hidden Europeans’ from minority or vulnerable groups, many with difficulties accessing the years of documentation needed to protect their residency status.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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