Author: May Bulman
The Home Office has been accused of failing to ensure EU nationals are not “dragged” into the hostile environment post-Brexit after the immigration minister said they would be subject to immigration checks by employers in the event of a no-deal.
Caroline Nokes was unable to tell MPs how employers would be able to distinguish those with settled status and those without, prompting fears that Brexit “risks a repeat of the Windrush scandal for EU citizens”.
Campaigners raised concerns that determining their right to work would be impossible because “no paperwork exists” to prove this, and warned that this could lead to the “unfair persecution of EU nationals”.
The government is encouraging EU citizens to apply online for settled status, but the system is not yet fully live. Ministers say people will have until 30 June 2021 to apply.
But under questioning by the Home Affairs Committee, the immigration minister admitted that during the transition period it would be “almost impossible to differentiate between somebody who has been here [for a substantial period of time] and not yet applied for settled status, and somebody who has just arrived”.
Responding to her comments, Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “Caroline Nokes has stated that employers should check EU nationals’ ‘paperwork’ to determine their right to work post-Brexit, despite the fact that no such paperwork exists.
“Another day, another example of a government with neither the intent nor the ability to run a fair and humane immigration system after Brexit.
“Putting the onus on employers to check up on their employees will lead to the unfair persecution of EU nationals and drag them into the climate of fear and suspicion created by Theresa May’s hostile environment.
“After the Windrush and DNA scandals, it is surely time to get rid of these awful policies instead of extending them to cover another 3 million people.”
Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, meanwhile, said: “Millions of EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for more than two years. Far from clearing up that uncertainty today, the immigration minister made it worse.
“We’ve already seen in the Windrush scandal how the Conservatives’ hostile environment checks can destroy the lives of people who have every right to be in the UK. The government’s chaotic approach to Brexit risks a repeat of that scandal for EU citizens.”
Ms Nokes said the government was “determined to protect the rights of” 3.5 million EU citizens currently living in the UK, but that new ones arriving will be subject to the same assessment and registration procedure as non-EU nationals.
It comes as the government faces a legal challenge over claims it has broken a promise that only serious criminals would be excluded from settled status.
The JCWI said the Home Office was also planning to exclude people who have had removal decisions made against them for non-exercise of treaty rights, which it said could include people previously convicted for rough sleeping or victims of trafficking with criminal convictions.