Landlords and civil society campaigners have urged Boris Johnson’s government to provide physical proof for EU citizens living in the UK, warning that landlords and employers could otherwise be reluctant to let a home or offer a job to EU citizens.
On Wednesday evening (22 January), UK MPs are expected to reject an amendment passed in the House of Lords to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would require EU citizens to be given a physical status document to prove their right to rent property and work in the UK.
Under the EU Settlement Scheme, the UK government plans only to give EU citizens a digital code to prove their residency for landlords and employers to look up online.
A report published by the3million earlier this week found that 89% of EU citizens are unhappy about the lack of a physical document to prove their status.
“The UK government is just sticking its head in the sand, and that’s a real tragedy because there can only be problems if the system isn’t changed,” Professor Tanja Bueltmann, the author of the 3million report, told EURACTIV.
“MPs have a chance here to unite about something that shouldn’t really contentious at all,” she added.
However, UK Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis, has insisted that the government has no plans to reform the Settled Status scheme which he described as generous and ‘going the extra mile for EU citizens’. That claim was refuted by Prof Bueltmann.
“The Settlement Scheme is not generous, it robs people of rights. To say that it is better or in any way generous is very hypocritical and disingenuous,” she added.
Research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants on the government’s Right to Rent policy has found that of 150 mystery shopping enquiries from prospective tenants who asked landlords to conduct an online status check, 85% received no response and only three responses explicitly stated that the landlord was willing to conduct an online check.
Landlords were far happier to respond positively when the tenant could provide a clear physical document proving their status.
“MPs should back what is a pragmatic and common-sense proposal,” the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the3million and the Residential Landlords Association, said in a statement.
“It should not be controversial that EU citizens who have played such a positive role to the life of the UK should be able to easily prove their rights with a physical document. A digital-only status will massively disadvantage EU citizens against British nationals with a passport, and anyone else who can quickly and conveniently prove their status with a simple official document,” they added.
The EU Settled Status scheme has attracted plenty of controversy since its formal launch. More than 2.75 million applications had been made by the end of 2019, according to Home Office statistics published last week.
Of these, 58% of applicants have already been granted settled status, which gives them indefinite leave to remain in the UK. But 41% have received the more precarious ‘pre-settled’ status, which only grants five years residency, after which they will have to apply again.
That has prompted concerns from civil society campaigners.
“Some people are definitely being given the wrong status, there can be no doubt about this,” Professor Bueltmann told EURACTIV.
“The fact that so many people get pre-settled status, even if correctly, is a serious concern because they will all have to re-apply for full status once they have reached the eligibility criteria. So effectively all of these 900,000 people are individual cliff-edges, so if everyone tells you today that the system is a success we have to reject that very strongly because we will not be able to know that until everyone has full settled status”.
“The best-case scenario is two things – to provide physical proof of status that will give EU citizens much more security and trust in the system and then to change to a declaratory system that does away with the finite deadline and therefore will prevent a lot of EU citizens becoming unlawful after the deadline,” she added.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]