We’ve been hearing a lot in the past few months about ‘Brexit preparedness.’ When 2021 starts, the transition period will have ended, and the UK will have left the EU – with or without a deal. The UK Government have been circulating some information about what Brexit preparedness might look like for individuals and businesses – but what does it look like for the EU Settlement Scheme?
The Settlement Scheme is the UK Government’s scheme to award EU and EEA citizens who are currently living in the UK with a new immigration status. Because the UK won’t be in the EU, we won’t be part of the EU’s policy of freedom of movement, and freedom to live and work in any member country. The Settlement Scheme is supposed to replace this policy with a new set of immigration regulations for EU citizens who have made their home here.
There are over 3.5 million EU nationals who have made their homes in the UK. As Churches, we want to be part of a welcoming society, one which values the contribution and presence of all who live in it. That means that as our thoughts turn to Brexit preparedness, it’s vital that we keep the rights of EU citizens at the centre of our thoughts – especially EU citizens who might find it more difficult to apply for the Settlement Scheme.
The deadline for applications is at the end of June 2021, but immigration advice charity Settled strongly advise that applications are made before the end of 2020. That’s because the six-month period after that is a ‘grace period’, allowing EU citizens more time to apply, but it’s possible that it will become more difficult for EU citizens to prove their right to be here after we leave the EU. This can lead to difficulty accessing housing, jobs, healthcare or benefits. So the sooner applications are made, the better.
Lots of EU citizens have already applied and been awarded a new immigration status. But there are still EU citizens in our congregations and communities who have not been able to apply for the scheme – either because they don’t know about it, or because they find the process of application to be more challenging. That can be because of digital exclusion, because the process is all online, or because the documents needed to prove residency can be really hard to get together for some people.
For example, if you’re homeless it’s so much harder to put together evidence of being in the UK: you might not have any evidence of rent or mortgage payments, or utility bills. If you’re a survivor of domestic abuse or exploitation, it might be impossible for you to access your identification documents. Or if you don’t have access to a smartphone, scanning documents can be really challenging.
The good news is that there’s lots of support on offer for applying to the Scheme, most of it provided by charities like Settled. If you think that you could signpost someone in your community towards these resources to make sure that they can stay in the UK after Brexit, check out our information and resource bank here.
Brexit preparedness looks like a lot of things. Paul Morrison, a policy advisor at JPIT, has put together some ideas about how Christians might pray for Brexit here, and Church leaders released a letter in January 2020 about how we might want a world after Brexit to look. But one thing that should definitely be included in Brexit preparedness is a commitment to the rights of all citizens living in the UK. So if you’re in a position to help EU citizens stay in their homes after Brexit look through our resources here and see what you can do to help.