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EU citizens being forced to apply to remain in the UK after Brexit are facing “unnecessary and unpleasant insecurity and anxiety”, Scotland’s Migration Minister has said.
Opening a Holyrood debate on protecting the rights of EU citizens in Scotland, Ben Macpherson criticised the current system and instead called for one of “confirming rights rather than acquiring rights through application”.
Mr Macpherson, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, argued the UK should scrap its two-tier application process and bring forward legislation protecting EU citizens’ rights to remain.
The UK Government’s EU settlement scheme, which can either grant settled status, pre-settled status for those with less than five years’ continuous residence in the UK, or reject the application, has received more than 92,700 requests to remain from EU citizens in Scotland in seven months.
Drawing parallels between the current system and the Windrush scandal, Mr Macpherson said: “It is completely wrong that EU citizens face potentially being dragged into the hostile environment immigration policies of the current UK Government.”
He said the current policy is leaving EU citizens “in unacceptable limbo” and wary to apply.
“The UK Government is effectively creating two classes of EU citizens – people who receive settled status who will be able to stay in the UK permanently and will have their rights fully protected by law and – in stark contrast – people given only pre-settled status, EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for less than five years,” Mr Macpherson said.
“This is concerning because this status is more precarious than settled status because it doesn’t give people a permanent right to stay here.”
“The Scottish Government has been clear for some time now that EU citizens should not have to apply to retain their right to live, work and study in this country.
“We, like many others across the UK, are deeply concerned about the consequences for those EU citizens who don’t apply by the deadline or who don’t apply at all.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron defended the policy and hit out at the “knee-jerk criticism of the UK Government – a Government which time and time again has committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens living in the UK”.
He added: “The incessant scaremongering by the SNP Government over the rights of EU citizens after we leave the European Union is ill-judged and deeply hypocritical.”
Labour MSP Alex Rowley said: “The Nasty Party, with its message of taking control of our borders, have deliberately tried to stoke up an anti-immigration message when the opposite is the case. “We need more people to make their lives here and work and contribute to the overall well-being of our country and our society. “Scottish Labour believes that this settled status programme must be reformed and ensure that EU citizens retain their rights in our country. Nothing else will do.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “The settlement scheme is not intended to make anyone feel welcome, in that respect it performs its function superbly well.
“It doesn’t confirm rights in an empathetic or positive way, it interrogates the decision of individuals and their families to come to this country in the first place.
“It hangs the threat of deportation over the heads of people who have offered to our country their skills.”