Campaigners call for changes to EU Settlement scheme in light of coronavirus pandemic

Priti Patel in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV.

Priti Patel in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have called on the government to reform the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) to allow greater flexibly for applicants in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Up to 30 charities and organisations have written to home secretary Priti Patel calling for a number of amendments on Tuesday - a year exactly until the scheme ends.

Under current arrangements, EU citizens have been told to apply by June if they wish to continue living and working in Britain.

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The letter said: 'We are concerned that the government has not taken appropriate steps or made the adequate adjustments to the EUSS necessary to protect EU citizens and family members from Covid-19.

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'We believe the Home Office must work with other government departments to resolve the following issues as a matter of urgency.'

The group has called for a number of changes including 'greater flexibility' in the way the Home Office receives documents, allowing digital copies of sensitive documents to be sent securely online, avoiding the need to post them.

They have also asked for provisions to be made for those who temporarily left the UK for their home country because of the pandemic to still be allowed to apply as well as granting pre-settled status applicants 'automatic right to reside' so they can access social security benefits and housing support.

Caitlin Boswell-Jones, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which was among those to sign the letter, said: 'At a time like this, the Home Office should be making it easier, not harder, for EU citizens to continue their lives in the UK.

'No-one should ever have to choose between protecting their own and public health, or securing their status and rights.'

Signatories said the department was placing 'undue burden' on the BAME, elderly, and disabled communities who are often unable to complete their applications online.

'We consider it to be very likely that elderly, disabled and BAME people, i.e. those at heightened risk of Covid-19 if they contract the virus, are disproportionately required to make postal applications,' they said.

'The Home Office is placing an undue burden on such individuals to decide whether to risk their own and the public's health in order to apply to the EUSS, which no applicant should have to do.'

The letter also raised concerns about some applicants having to travel long distances to appointments to supply fingerprints, adding: 'In some instances these journeys will be entirely unnecessary as the Home Office holds past biometric enrolment information relating to the individual.

'Adjustments need to be made to the application process to ensure that it complies with the Withdrawal Agreement and equality law.'

Responding to the comments, a Home Office spokesperson said: 'There have already been over 3.6 million applications to the EU Settlement Scheme and, with a year to go, there is still plenty of time to apply.

'The vast majority of people find it easy to apply online, but for those who need extra help a wide range of support has continued to be available seven days a week throughout the coronavirus pandemic.'

The official said applicants can phone the EU Settlement Resolution Centre for over-the-phone support while others can use an app designed for the identity stage of their application.

They added: 'The scheme already generously accommodates those who have to leave the UK temporarily. Applicants are permitted up to six months absence in any year, plus a single absence of up to 12 months for an important reason such as ill health, without it impacting on their eligibility.'

So far, more than 3.6 million applications have been sent and just over 3.3 million finalised. Of those, over 1.9 million have been granted settled status - giving them permanent leave to remain living and working in the UK - and more than 1,35 million were granted pre-settled status, where they would need to reapply again after living in the country for five years to gain permanent residence.

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