The government’s new settled status programme for EU citizens could spark another Windrush scandal, with more than a million vulnerable people at risk of being left out, a leading think-tank has warned.
As the Home Office partially launched its post-Brexit scheme to register around 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK on Monday, a report from British Future said around 30% could struggle to make an application – especially those who speak little English, are stay-at-home parents or are children in care.
EU citizens and their families must apply to the settlement scheme – at a cost of £65 for adults and £32.50 for under-16s – before June 30, 2021, if they want to remain in the UK past that date.
If even just 5% of those who need settled status fail to apply or are refused, it would leave as many as 175,000 people in the UK with an insecure immigration status, or without a status altogether, the think-tank said.
“In future this group of EU citizens may find themselves in the same position as those affected by the recent Windrush scandal: destitute, barred from working, at risk of exploitation and unable to access basic services such as the NHS,” it warned.
The Home Office must invest in getting the scheme right “from the start”, British Future strategy director Jill Rutter said, with critics ridiculing the fact that the app to apply cannot be downloaded to iPhones.
According to the Press Association, officials expect to be able to process around 6,000 applications a day, with roughly 1,500 caseworkers on the scheme and another 400 dedicated to working on issues.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said extensive testing “shows clearly that we are well on track to deliver a system that will make it easy and straightforward for EU citizens to obtain status”.
But campaign group More United accused the government of treating EU nationals unfairly, saying it “wasn’t right” to ask people who have lived in the UK for years “to pay to stay in their homes”.
“These people are our friends, family and colleagues who deserve to be treated better,” the group’s CEO Bess Mayhew said, calling on home secretary Sajid Javid to reconsider.
“These costs are not insignificant. Heating bills are high at this time of year and we know elderly people often struggle to make ends meet in winter,” she continued. “For a family of four these fees can add up to over £200 - that’s the equivalent to an average monthly food shop at a time when pressures on household finances are already high.”
A joint petition by More United and EU citizen groups the3million and In Limbo calling on the government to scrap the settlement fee has been signed more than 6,500 times.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It will be simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need.
“They will only need to complete three key steps, prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.”