Government delays in responding to thousands of residency applications by EU nationals could lead to a repeat of the Windrush scandal, where UK citizens were wrongly deported, UK lawmakers have warned.
In a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Thursday (25 May), the House of Lords European Affairs committee cited evidence that around 200,000 applications for residency status in the UK under the settlement scheme for EU nationals are still pending a decision more than a year after the deadline for applications.
The Committee heard evidence that these delays are having serious consequences and could lead to “Windrush-type scenarios”.
Windrush was a political scandal that began in the UK in 2018, concerning people who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and wrongly deported by the Home Office
The settlement scheme, introduced in 2018, was designed to allow EU nationals to continue to live and work in the UK after it leaves the EU but around three million applicants were given ‘pre-settled’ status, which only entitled them to five years of residency, after which they had to re-apply.
Last December, the UK High Court ruled that people who had been granted pre-settled status are entitled to reside permanently in the UK once they have lived there for the required five-year period and do not have to re-apply.
During evidence sessions earlier this year, the Committee was told that those with pending applications were facing difficulties applying for provisional driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards, and national insurance numbers.
That, in turn, has resulted in problems accessing key welfare benefits such as national insurance numbers and universal credit.
In some cases, applicants are “advised not to travel out” while decisions are pending and so are “effectively imprisoned” in the UK, the committee added.
“We are particularly concerned that the backlog that has developed as a result of delays to applications to the EU Settlement Scheme is having a serious impact on individuals who are living in uncertainty, leaving them unable to make the fundamental decisions they need to live their lives, access work or support, or even travel outside of the UK.“
The letter added that it was “clear from the evidence we have heard that the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU remain live issues”.
Meanwhile, a Home Office database error in January led to an incorrect application status being displayed online for approximately 146,000 people.
Five months on from the High Court judgment ruling, the committee said that “there is still no clarity on how the residence rights of holders of pre-settled status will be guaranteed, and whether they will still be required to complete an application for settled status to secure their rights.”
The lawmakers demanded “clarity on this without further delay”.
The committee also expressed concern at comments by ministers indicating that the government was working to ensure implementation of the court judgement only by September 2023, when the first outstanding expiry dates for pre-settled status will be reached.
“It is clear from the evidence we received that there continues to be a range of serious concerns about the rights of both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU,” said Lord Stewart Wood, the acting chairman of the European Affairs committee.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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