Author: Jane Wharton
Tens of thousands of children could become ‘undocumented migrants’ because of the government’s heavily-criticised EU settlement scheme.
As politicians battle to find a way out of the Brexit shambles, there are warnings that MPs are wilfully ignoring the plight of vulnerable kids.
Human rights lawyer Sailesh Mehta said: ‘Given the scale of incompetence we have witnessed in our elected officials in recent days, there is little confidence this scheme will run smoothly.
‘There will be many children who, for reasons not of their making, will fail to register and become “undocumented” and without legal status.’
There are over 900,000 EU national children now living in the UK with about 285,000 having been born here.
Each one – even babies – will have to prove they have the right to remain in the country after we leave the bloc.
All will be reliant on an adult making a successful application on their behalf.
However, a recent pilot scheme showed that in 20 per cent of cases, the children did not have the necessary documentation to prove they could stay.
More than half of the cases required detailed immigration advice that only a lawyer could provide.
And, shockingly, Metro.co.uk has learnt that the government does not even keep a record of how many EU children are in care or living away from a responsible adult.
Head of policy at children’s legal charity Coram, Kamena Dorling, said: ‘Many EU national children and young people, who have grown up in the UK, are at risk of becoming a “Second Windrush” generation.
‘They will be unable to work, open a bank account or drive a car and effectively be barred from college, university and secondary healthcare.’
Because of Brexit, an estimated 3,800,000 EU citizens now have to register to stay in the UK.
Failure to do so by the end of 2020, means those who have lived, worked and paid taxes here would suddenly become illegal in the eyes of the law.
The Government has boasted the registration process is ‘straightforward and streamlined’ but critics say it has been designed with workers in mind.
Those without regular tax records – such as the retired, self-employed and children – are more at risk of problems.
The Home Office has admitted that 10 to 20 per cent of all applicants will be vulnerable.
This means that out of more than 900,000 EU children in the UK – over 180,000 could be left in legal limbo.
Mr Mehta added: ‘No-one within the scheme – which is the most complex immigration scheme ever – can actually say how many children are at risk.
‘Today’s politicians will claim tomorrow that they knew nothing of the problem.
‘Or they will blame others for it – including the victims.
‘The problem has been clearly signposted by children’s welfare organisations but our political leaders choose not to see it.’
There are an estimated 5,000 children from EU countries living in local authority care.
However, a third of councils do not keep records of the nationality of those people and will be unaware they need to apply for settled status.
Coram said that there are also tens of thousands of children whose parents or carers are probably unaware that they qualify for British citizenship – which would give them more stability than settled status.
Anyone born in the UK and who has lived here for 10 years is able to apply for a British passport.
However, they need to pay a ‘prohibitively expensive’ fee of £1,012 – even though the true cost of processing the application is £372.
Conversely, Coram warned that many people think that are automatically British because they are born in the UK.
But actually, their status is dependent upon that of their parents, who need to be either British or have had permanent residence at the time their children were born.
Ms Dorling added: ‘Children have grown up their whole lives in the UK but it is only when they approach adulthood that they realise immigration is an issue.
‘There is a lot of potential for children to fall through the gaps with this settlement scheme.
‘If they end up as undocumented, there is significant concern that they will be blocked from many areas of life, such as health and education, that they need to build their futures.’
The Home Office is already clearing up the shameful Windrush scandal, which saw many elderly people being wrongly detained or deported back to the Caribbean after a bureaucratic nightmare.
Coram has called on local authorities to identify EU children in their care and want the government to give free legal assistance if there are issues.
The Home Office said they were providing an extra £9 million in funding for EU citizens to apply to the settlement scheme.
They added that they had worked with the Department for Education to ensure all EU children in care would be looked after and applications made on their behalf.