Author: Lisa O’Carroll
A UK charity is to raise concerns with MPs over the Home Office’s plans to force EU citizens to register for “settled status” after Brexit.
The East European Resource Centre in London, an organisation dedicated to helping eastern Europeans avoid exploitation, said it was very concerned that hundreds of thousands of Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians would not be able to supply the right paperwork as a result of working in the “grey economy” as cleaners and handymen or for unscrupulous employers.
Others may slip through the net because they are so excluded from British society, they will be unaware that the scheme applies to them.
The EERC’s chief executive, Barbara Drozdowicz, said the charity had identified categories of disadvantaged and vulnerable people, all of whom will be living in Britain legally under EU law but are in danger of missing any Home Office request to register unless the department put millions into an awareness campaign.
“The Home Office is telling people about settled status on Facebook and YouTube and Spotify. That is not the way to get people interested. We are talking hundreds of thousands of people who are vulnerable.
“There are people who might have come here and started off working for a few months for cash, but before they know it they know it, it has turned into years. Some of them will typically be sub-letting flats, so won’t have contracts with landlords or tax records.”
Drozdowicz’s evidence at the Brexit select committee on Wednesday morning will throw light on the lesser known issues faced by the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens settled legally in the UK who will need to apply for a new immigration status for the first time after Brexit.
Activists representing western European countries have run influential campaigns that have caught the attention of the European parliament’s Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, and the European commission’s Michel Barnier. But the voices of eastern Europeans had not been heard so much, said Drozdowicz.
There are an estimated 922,000 Polish people in Britain, the largest non-British EU citizen group in the country, followed by Romanians and Irish (390,000 each)
Drozdowicz said the charity was worried the biggest challenge the Home Office would face was persuading people to apply for settled status in the first place.
“If you don’t have to renew your visa every six months or five years, having to apply for immigration is going to be a shocking experience, this will apply to all EU citizens, but we are concerned about language skills and literacy among some eastern European cohorts,” she said.
Children in care, women in refuges because of domestic violence and older eastern European people, particularly those who came to Britain from Poland after or during the second world war, are also considered vulnerable under the proposed Home Office rules.
“Who is going to pay for their applications for settled status? We think local councils may pay for children, but what about the elderly with dementia?” said Drozdowicz.
“Because the registration process is going to be highly dependent on HMRC evidence, people who get paid cash will be vulnerable and are most likely exploited.”
The charity has already launched outreach programmes in communities where eastern European populations are concentrated but they have little funding and say that this job should be part of the state’s responsibility. She forecasts that an “underground industry” of unqualified immigration advisers will mushroom after Brexit.
While Office for National Statistics figures show the number of immigrants is falling, the UK is still attractive in some rural areas of countries, such as Romania, where pay is as low as £450 a month.
The Home Office said it had established contact with a group of organisations working with vulnerable people and was listening to their suggestions on how they could support their application process.
A spokesperson said: “We are developing from scratch a new digital, streamlined, user-friendly scheme for EU citizens to safeguard their right to stay in the UK after we leave the EU.
“We are well aware of the challenges of ensuring that 3 million EU citizens and their family members living here understand the need to apply and have the ability to. That is why we have already launched a national awareness campaign, are holding monthly meetings with EU citizens’ representatives to understand their needs and are planning a range of support for vulnerable groups.”