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The government’s EU citizens plan ignores the most vulnerable

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Author: Dulcie Lee

Latest analysis raises yet more questions about how the government will reach the 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit.

Imagine waking up one day and being told you have to apply to live in the country you already live in – and have lived in – for decades. No longer can you rest comfortably in your ignorance about the impossibly complicated immigration system. You can’t rely on the status quo – that doesn’t exist for you anymore.

You have to navigate the gov.uk website – and not just once a year to slog through your tax return – but to apply to continue with your life as you know it. Suddenly you have to prove something so second nature to you it seems impossible to know where to start.

This is the reality for many of the 3.4 million non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK. After months of deadening silence and obfuscation, the government eventually came up with a plan to allow for indefinite leave via something called “settled status”, for which the vast majority of those people qualify.

However, it is a plan which, according to academics, leaves vulnerable EU citizens including children in care, the elderly, and victims of domestic abuse at risk of losing their right to remain in the UK after Brexit.

A new report published by researchers from Oxford’s Migration Observatory, warns that a potentially “significant number” may miss the deadline to apply for their settled status, forcing them to either leave their home in the UK or they’ll be breaking the law. The report’s authors believe that many may not know they need to apply, may struggle to navigate the system or make an application, or may not being able to demonstrate that they live in the UK, for example if they don’t have a bank account.

The academics claim securing settled status will be more difficult for certain groups, who might not normally be classified as “vulnerable”, including children, very long term residents, and people who have already applied for permanent residence.

There are plenty of EU citizens living in the UK who are young, computer literature recent graduates, who speak fluent or near-fluent English. But of course, they are only part of the picture. While EU citizens living in the UK are on average highly educated, the report suggests other factors such as language barriers, age, disability, and lack of digital know-how could play a role in some citizen’s failure to secure residency.

Applications may be more difficult for people who are already vulnerable or have reduced autonomy for some reason. The report gives the example of victims of domestic abuse, who could struggle to complete the application, particularly if they rely on a partner for evidence. EU citizens are less likely than British nationals to be victims of domestic abuse, although an estimated 50,000 EU citizen women reported experiencing some form of abuse in the year ending March 2017.


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