A charity that advocates for migrant rights’ has launched legal action against Priti Patel arguing the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) causes unlawful discrimination.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) is calling on the home secretary to scrap or at least extend the scheme beyond June 2021.
They warn failure to do so could result in tens of thousands EU nationals losing their right to live in the UK and face deportation or detention.
JCWI’s legal action, which requires crowdfunding, claims that Patel’s failure to level the playing field and guarantee that all EU citizens know about and understand the Scheme, as well as how and when to apply, constitutes unlawful discrimination and puts her in breach of the Public Sector Equality duty.
EU resident in the UK who have not been granted status under the Scheme by the cut-off date will be left without leave to remain.
Research carried out by the charity shows that marginalised groups most at risk included the elderly, those with disabilities, children in care and the Roma community, who face barriers accessing the Scheme.
JCWI legal policy director, Chai Patel, said: “Boris Johnson and Priti Patel promised that EU citizens would automatically be allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit. The settlement scheme breaks that promise and all but guarantees that many, particularly the most vulnerable who may not even know they need to apply, will lose their right to live in the UK after the June deadline.
“We know that the government is failing to reach many marginalised groups with the EUSS, we are in the middle of the pandemic, and the cut off point for applications is six months away.
“The deadline must be scrapped or failing that extended before it is too late and tens of thousands of Europeans find themselves without leave to remain and at risk of falling victim to the Hostile Environment.”
Charity officials said their calls for the government to “comprehensively monitor” the impact of the Scheme on vulnerable and marginalised groups went unheeded for over a year until Patel released the Policy Equality Statement on November 18.
They said the statement is “wholly inadequate” and shows no remedy for the obstacles faced by vulnerable groups.
Lack of awareness, language barriers, technological barriers, lack of documentation and reliance on state agencies such as social services are amongst the factors which make it much more difficult for some people to safeguard their right to stay in the UK post-Brexit.
Those with disabilities, children in care and care leavers, people in insecure work and those living in poverty or on the streets are among those whom evidence shows are likely to fail to apply to the Scheme by the cut-off date.
Multiple warnings from JCWI and others that all Europeans resident in the UK should be granted automatic settled status in order to prevent discrimination under the EUSS went unmet.
The Home Office’s refusal comes a month after the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the department’s creation of hostile environment policies had broken equalities law despite multiple warnings.