A reflection on the looming EUSS deadline by Julie Linley, Education Manager & Migrant Support Coordinator, St Vincent’s Centre, Leeds
It’s easy to forget that behind headlines and deadlines there are human lives, real people with real problems. The deadline for applications for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is looming, and for hundreds of thousands of people, the clock is ticking.
One thing a spreadsheet or a set of statistics can’t quantify is suffering. For the hundreds of thousands of people seeking Settled Status in the UK, that deadline represents the very real prospect of destitution and homelessness.
EU citizens and their non-EU family members (EEA+ citizens) must apply to remain in the UK before the 30 June deadline. Those who have lived and worked in the UK continuously for five years can apply for Settled Status, whereas most people who have less than five years can apply for temporary Pre-settled Status and apply again when they have accumulated their prerequisite five years, or in some cases sooner.
St Vincent’s has joined with other organisations to help vulnerable people navigate their way through the EUSS. The Home Office has granted £21.5 million of funding to 72 organisations over the past two years which has allowed them to assist over 250,000 vulnerable EEA+ citizens to apply under the EUSS. Many would not have managed to secure their status without this specialised support, and it remains essential to ensure those most at risk are not left behind. However, the restrictions and anxiety surrounding the pandemic will leave the most vulnerable and socially isolated at risk of missing out.
In Leeds and Bradford we are helping vulnerable people make EUSS applications, and offering support and advice, however awareness of the scheme and the necessity to make an application is really low. This isn’t happening just in West Yorkshire, it’s happening across the country.
The sad fact is that people will miss the deadline, and they are likely to be vulnerable people, including EU nationals who have experienced modern slavery, children, people on low income, people whose first language isn’t English, people experiencing domestic abuse, and people with no fixed address. These groups of vulnerable people often survive at the margins of society and, sadly are not often seen.
Another problem facing those of us supporting EEA+ citizens is that the Covid ‘stay at home and stay safe’ message has been heard at all levels of society. People have prioritised feeding themselves and keeping safe from Covid, then suddenly the EUSS deadline arrives, leaving confusion and apprehension about travel and face-to-face meetings.
Gathering documentation to support an EUSS application requires time, access to resources, knowledge of systems and contacts. Getting documents, such as ID for passports for families, often carries a cost and often involves travel. The family has to find the money to travel across country, and at a time when we are all being told to minimise travel and stay at home.
Aside from the costs associated with an EUSS application, the problem of accessing documentation is a major hurdle. Vulnerable people don’t tend to have large paper trails for different reasons.
In Leeds and Bradford, we have adapted our way of working to make it easier for people to access our services in an environment of trust. For example, working in partnership with schools means children can be pulled out of class for a short period rather than being absent all day. We can work remotely or face-to-face.
Missing the EUSS deadline means someone could very quickly become destitute, and this will happen, possibly to thousands of vulnerable people. There is scope for late applications but making a late application will still result in being classed as unlawfully resident, which may again lead to someone rapidly becoming destitute.
According to the Mayor of London’s website, if someone misses the EUSS deadline, “From 1 July 2021 a person’s presence in the UK will no longer be tolerated, they will be considered unlawfully resident. That person will face restrictions on rights and entitlements in the UK and will fall within the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies until such time that they obtain pre-Settled Status or Settled Status.”
It’s also a mistake to think that this situation doesn’t affect the rest of the UK. We are all suffering because of this, it’s not good for any of us. The ripple effect which starts with a failed EUSS application or missing the deadline means someone can’t legally work, they can’t legally rent a property, they then can’t feed themselves, they become homeless, they must rely on the charity of others, they are at serious risk of abuse, mental health issues and other health problems. This is something which indirectly impacts everyone in our communities at some level. The suffering will affect us all.
More people are coming forward all the time for help and we are working hard to support them, but the demand and complexities brought about by Covid and the difficult lives vulnerable people tend to live has made our task challenging.
So far over five million people have secured their status through the EUSS, but research from the Children’s Society suggests that of 3,543 identified EU looked-after children and care leavers, only 39% have submitted applications to the EUSS, and only 28% have secured their status. An even more recent Home Office survey between February-April 2021 found that 33% of identified looked-after children had not yet made an application to the EUSS. These numbers are worrying and reveal the scale of the problem we are facing as the deadline passes.
Recently a group of over 40 government-funded charities wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging the government “to lift the EUSS deadline and ensure continuity of support to ensure all EEA+ citizens can secure their status.” The St Vincent’s Centre in Leeds was one of the signatories and has been raising awareness of these issues for years.
The open letter highlighted that “this is the only way to ensure that all our European friends, neighbours and the people we support can continuing to live their lives lawfully in the UK.”
As Vincentians, it is our mission to help those in need. In the case of the EUSS deadline, we know there will be tens of thousands of vulnerable people who are not able to apply. We are led by our Vincentian values to help them now and negate this harsh reality.">