Our new report When the Clapping Stops: EU Care Workers after Brexit explores EEA+ care workers’ awareness, understanding and experiences of the EU Settlement Scheme. Our research finds that as well vulnerable EEA+ citizens, care workers and other key workers – the very people we are relying on to pull us through the COVID crisis – are in real danger of being left behind by the EU Settlement Scheme.

With the EU Settlement scheme deadline less than six months away and the UK still very much in the grips of the COVID pandemic, the situation couldn’t be more urgent. The deadline must be lifted to prevent the creation of a significant new population of irregular migrants vulnerable to Hostile Environment policies, including detention and deportation.

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When the clapping stops - EU Care Workers after Brexit

See the key findings

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BBC London covering our research

Source: BBC London


Executive Summary

Background

Over the last year, we have been vividly reminded of how much our health and wellbeing depends on workers from all over the country and from all over the world.

But Brexit puts the futures of millions of Europeans and their family members (EEA+ residents) at risk. In 2017 the UK Government decided that all EEA+ residents must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) if they wished to continue living in their homes and working in the UK after Brexit. For most, this process is straightforward, but for many it is complicated and inaccessible. The consequences for someone slipping through the cracks are devastating and far-reaching. 

Anyone who is unable to apply by the cut-off point of 30th June 2021 will lose their legal status and feel the full force of the Hostile Environment, including facing criminal charges, detention, and deportation. If even a tiny fraction of the estimated 4 million EEA+ residents are unable to apply in time, tens of thousands of people will lose their status overnight.

Our research

Some people, including vulnerable or marginalised groups such as looked-after children, adults with limited mental capacity and Roma communities, are particularly in danger of being left behind with the EUSS. Our research sought to identify whether these risks apply to other groups who may not initially be recognised as “at risk” under the scheme. Focusing on care work, a sector with a large EEA+ workforce, we assessed whether workers were aware of what they need to do, when they need to do it by, and learned about what their experiences of the EUSS have been.

Findings

Thousands of workers are at risk of becoming criminalised overnight 

Existing definitions of groups who are “at risk” are insufficient and narrow. We found that, in addition to vulnerable or marginalised groups, many workers, particularly those in low-paid, difficult, or exploitative work, are also at high risk of losing their legal status overnight. 

  • 1 in 7 care workers surveyed online did not know or were not sure what the EUSS was
  • 1 in 3 care workers surveyed in person had not heard about the EUSS before we met them
  • 1 in 3 care workers surveyed online did not know that there was a deadline for the EUSS or did not know when it was
  • Over half the care workers surveyed in person didn’t know when the EUSS deadline was

“I read it [the EUSS] but I’m not sure, because I’m always hearing different versions, so I’m not sure what’s going on.”

“[I am] fearful of a possible Windrush scandal with EU citizens happening.”

Outreach and support are inadequate 

Existing provision to support people who may face difficulties with the EUSS is inadequate. We found that, in addition to vulnerable or marginalised groups, many workers require support with accessing the EUSS. The Home Office’s outreach is insufficient to meet this need, and its reliance on charities and employers to fill the gaps is unrealistic and dangerous.

  • Nearly half of care workers surveyed online received help with their application
  • Of those who received help, 77% said that this support was a ‘quite’ or ‘very’ important part of the process
  • 9 in 10 care workers surveyed in person did not know where to find assistance with the EUSS 

Kelly, GMB: “I’ve spoken to a lot of the big providers and it was quite concerning how little they knew about it… I think care workers have not a lot of received knowledge about what’s going on and what the possible effects of not following procedures or getting them right are.”

There is widespread anxiety and anger 

The consequences of losing legal status can be life-altering, and this looming threat hangs over people who may have lived in the UK for many years. Many are additionally worried about the  lack of physical documentation provided by the EUSS at a time when the Hostile Environment policies often lead to migrants and minorities being denied access to crucial services if they are unable to produce their papers.

  • 1 in 3 care workers surveyed online reported wholly negative experiences or feelings around applying to the EUSS

“It made me feel horrible, unvalued, cheated, used... I arrived in the UK legally and have made my life here and was forced to apply to continue living here with my British husband. I am really angry. I fear that many vulnerable people will fail to apply and will face the Hostile Environment.”

Implications

Large numbers of EEA+ care workers losing their legal status would devastate a care sector which was already under significant pressure before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings suggest that, without urgent action, this outcome is a very real possibility. 

Though this research has been limited to the care sector, its findings are not. What is true of EEA+ care workers will be true of any EEA+ resident working long hours at low pay – worryingly low levels of awareness of the scheme and dangerously low levels of support for those who need it. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how much our communities, our economy and our health depend on workers considered by some to be “low skilled”. Workers who put their lives and their families’ lives at risk daily to care for others. Workers who now face the real prospect of losing their legal status in the UK overnight.

With so much at stake for so many, the Government must do everything in its power to protect the rights of EEA+ citizens resident in the UK. Instead it is refusing to address the risks and cannot measure whether the scheme is working for all EEA+ citizens.

“Working in the pandemic was really really hard, because a lot of people were off sick or had to stay at home. So I had to work almost double, sometimes triple… The pandemic impacted my mental health… It caused stress and affected my nervous system.”

Recommendations

1. Lift the deadline

The government should lift the deadline for applying to the EUSS so that nobody is forced to lose their legal status and their rights.

2. Grant all EEA+ citizens automatic settled status 

Keep Boris Johnson’s promise of ‘automatic status’, and grant every EEA+ citizen and family member resident in the UK before the end of December 2020 automatic settled status. Many EU countries are doing the same for British citizens and it’s the only way to avoid the risk that tens of thousands of people will fall out of status and face becoming criminalised after June 2021.

3. Extend the EUSS deadline alongside a robust monitoring and outreach system 

Whatever else is decided, June is rapidly approaching. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and there is overwhelming evidence that significant numbers of EEA+ citizens will slip through the cracks in the EUSS and be left without legal status. The deadline must be extended and the Government must find out who is at risk of being left out, and make sure they are all assisted to obtain status before a new deadline can be imposed.

4. Create and publish comprehensive and flexible guidance for late applications

If there is a deadline, EEA+ citizens who miss it need clear, fair, and flexible guidance on what to do to regularise their status afterwards. They were residing in the UK in good faith before Brexit, it would be a cruel and counterproductive act to put unnecessary barriers up against them being able to stay with their families and communities here. 

5. End the Hostile Environment

The Hostile Environment has been shown to cause racism and to destroy the lives of migrants caught up in it, like those of the Windrush generation. The new rules expose millions more migrants to these risks, and make further abuses like Windrush ever more likely. It needs to be scrapped. 

6. Automatically upgrade pre-settled status to settled status

Pre-settled status simply moves the risk of becoming irregular from June, to five years in the future. This will create a silent wave of people becoming irregular in future. Many of them will have wrongly been granted the less secure pre-settled status instead of the full settled status they were eligible for. Everyone who is granted pre-settled status should automatically receive settled status after they have been resident in the UK for five years. 

7. Bring EUSS cases within the scope of legal aid

There is no legal aid for EUSS cases, which has the greatest impact on vulnerable EEA+ citizens, especially non-EU family members, who tend to have more complex cases and need help to navigate the system. Giving people independent legal advice will help make sure that people who are eligible for status actually get it. 

8. Provide all EEA+ citizens with physical documentation as proof of status

EEA+ citizens are being subjected to an experiment in which they are not permitted a physical document proving their immigration status. They should not be forced to rely on unreliable government IT, and having no physical proof means they will face discrimination in accessing housing, work, and other essential services. They should be given a proof of status that they can keep to avoid being put in a situation in future where they cannot prove their right to be here, as happened to Windrush nationals.

About JCWI

JCWI was founded in 1967 to ensure that the rule of law and human rights are respected in the immigration system. We are the UK’s leading immigration charity covering all aspects of immigration, asylum, and nationality law. We provide specialist legal advice in immigration matters and carry out research, examine and analyse immigration policy and law. 

JCWI has worked extensively on EEA+ citizens’ rights since the Brexit vote. This work has focused mainly on the EUSS, how it impacts marginalised groups and what the implications are for EEA+ citizens’ rights post-Brexit. We have carried out this work in multiple ways: through engagement with government, analysing legal changes, conducting research, coordinating cross-sector campaigns, and advocating for EEA+ citizens’ rights to be protected in the Brexit process and beyond.

Download the full report

Ask your MP to read the report and back our calls to #LiftTheDeadline

Write to your MP