18th November 2019: A coalition of over 30 organisations, including JCWI, has jointly written to all party leaders, calling for them to stand up for EU citizens' rights at this election and beyond. 

In the letter, we set out five clear changes that are needed if we are to prevent EU citizens losing their rights and status in the UK, regardless of the outcome of Brexit.  

Dear Party Leader,

We are writing to you as organisations that work with, are led by, support and represent EU citizens and non-EU family members resident in the UK. We wish to raise a number of concerns about the current EU Settlement Scheme (‘the Scheme’), which require action to ensure that EU citizens and non-EU family members are able to continue living lawfully in the UK with their rights protected, regardless of the outcome of Brexit. Many of these concerns are not new, but have been raised by The 3 Million and other campaign groups since the UK’s proposal on citizens’ rights was first made in June 2017. We hope that you commit to our policies and make these issues priorities for your party during the election period and beyond.

In the 2016 referendum campaign, it was promised that there would be ‘no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK’ and that EU citizens would ‘automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and treated no less favourably than they are at present’. Yet under the current Scheme these promises cannot be delivered. Many EU citizens and family members will struggle to obtain their status due to a variety of factors: a lack of awareness about the scheme, a lack of support or difficulty obtaining documentation. No comparable application scheme anywhere has ever succeeded in reaching 100% of its audience, and it is unlikely that the UK Government will manage to do so. We know that it is the most vulnerable in society - including older and disabled people and children - who are at the greatest risk of falling through the cracks. It will be up to the new Government to ensure that crucial changes are made to prevent hundreds of thousands of EU citizens and family members falling out of status and becoming criminalised after the cut-off point.

Make the EU Settlement Scheme a declaratory system

We are calling on all party leaders to commit to making the Scheme a declaratory system, granting EU citizens and family members an automatic right to settled status and removing the current cliff-edge scenario which could result in hundreds of thousands of people losing status overnight. This is not a radical ask, but an issue with cross-party parliamentary support that was promised during the 2016 Leave Campaign. Under a declaratory system, EU citizens and family members will need to register in order to avoid difficulties in their day-to-day life. The new Government can create fair incentives for people to register, but removing someone’s status makes life in the UK unlivable.

Provide physical documentation

We are asking party leaders to commit to providing EU citizens and family members with physical proof of status. We anticipate that a lack of physical documentation will lead to discrimination and greater vulnerability to hostile environment measures. Physical documentation allows people to live their lives with dignity and a sense of control. All other migrants and British citizens can choose to obtain physical documentation to prove their status and there is no reason why this right should be denied to EU citizens and family members.  

Earlier this year, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) challenged the Government’s ‘Right to Rent’ scheme, which requires private landlords to check tenants’ immigration status. The High Court agreed that Right to Rent is discriminatory and that the scheme cannot be made to work. We are concerned that the EU Settlement Scheme will have the same effect and ask you to take action now to prevent this.

Provide the right of appeal in a no-deal scenario

The right to appeal is a crucial means of accessing justice. Before access to the tribunal was severely restricted by provisions in the Immigration Act 2014, around 49% of appeals were successful. Whereas, over the same period in 2015/16, the success rate for administrative reviews conducted in the UK was 8%, falling to just 3.4% the year after.

In the Queen’s Speech, the Government suggested that the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will give EU citizens and their family members a right of appeal against decisions under the Scheme. We ask party leaders to commit to ensuring an appeal right will be introduced regardless of whether there is a deal with the EU.

Issue clear guidance on EU citizens’ rights

We ask that clear guidance for EU citizens and non-EU family members is published, outlining their rights and the fact that procedures for checking immigration status should not change until the new immigration system is introduced. This will ensure public services and landlords are clear on the correct procedures for checking EU citizens and family members’ immigration status and protect against wrongful decision making and discrimination.

The regularly changing Brexit landscape has created a great deal of confusion and misinformation amongst employers, landlords, NHS staff and other services, about processes for working with, providing for or engaging EU citizens. As such, we welcome the Government’s ‘EU Settlement Scheme Toolkits’ published for employers and community leaders, which provide clear guidance and state that there is a duty not to discriminate against EU citizens. We ask that party leaders commit to creating a similar toolkit for private landlords and NHS staff.

Increase and make transparent outreach efforts

We welcome the £9 million that has been awarded to 57 organisations working with vulnerable EU citizens and family members and the £4 million that is being spent on Home Office outreach, but we know this is not enough to reach all vulnerable EU citizens and family members. Charities cannot solely be relied upon and the Government and local authorities must do more to ensure the scheme reaches as many eligible people as possible.

We ask party leaders to commit to increased funding on outreach for the Scheme, with a particular focus on people who are socially isolated or with no engagement with services, such as elderly people in care homes or temporary agricultural or construction workers. We also ask that the Government publishes information on exactly what the £4 million for Home Office outreach has so far been spent on.

Regardless of the outcome of the next stages of the Brexit process, we urge you to commit to making these changes to the Scheme, secure the associated rights in primary legislation and ensure the new Government delivers on the promise made to protect EU citizens and family members living in the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Ali Harris, Chief Executive, Equally Ours

Angela Kail, Director of Consulting, New Philanthropy Capital

Brian Gormally, Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK

Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive, Charity Finance Group

Christopher Stacey, Co-director, Unlock - for People with Convictions

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

Denise McDowell, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group

Elena Remigi, Founder & Director, the In Limbo Project

Jackie Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, TGP Cymru

Jennifer Ang, Director, Just Rights Scotland

Jo Hickman, Director, Public Law Project

Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centres Network

Kamena Dorling, CORAM, Group Head of Policy and Public Affairs

Kim Dams, Director, Scottish Rural Action

Kush Chottera, Executive Director, Europia

Malene Bratlie, Coordinator, Brexit Civil Society Alliance

Mhairi Snowden, Coordinator, Human Rights Consortium Scotland

Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice

Nicolas Hatton, CEO & Founder Member, The 3 Million

Nicole Francis, Chief Executive, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

Nicole Masri, Senior Legal Officer, Rights of Women

Paddy Kelly, Director, Children’s Law Centre

Roger Casale, Secretary General & CEO, New Europeans

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)

Sue Bott CBE, Head of Policy and Research, Disability Rights UK

Sylvia Ingmire, CEO, Roma Support Group

Tahmid Chowdhury, Joint-CEO, Here for Good Law