Scotland's Citizens Advice network will provide a new advice service to European citizens in Scotland affected by changes in the immigration rules as a result of Brexit.
Funded by £800,000 over three years by the Scottish Government, Citizens Advice Bureaux will begin increasing capacity to offer advice and support immediately, with a view to the full service being live at the beginning of April 2019.
Citizens Advice Bureaux will advise on rights, entitlements and requirements, many of which are devolved, which are affected by an individual's immigration status. As an additional support to advisers, a solicitor-led helpline will also be established for difficult and complex cases.
In March, the UK Government will introduce a settlement scheme where EU citizens and their family members will be required to apply to secure their rights through an online system.
Visiting Leith Citizens Advice Bureau in Edinburgh on International Migrants Day, Scottish Government Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said:
"The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to doing all it can to speak up for and in support of EU citizens at this uncertain and anxious time. Scotland is a welcoming and progressive nation and we deeply value the huge contribution of all those who have chosen to make their home here. We passionately want relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues from other EU countries to stay in Scotland - and that is why this funding will help to give people reassurances about their rights and access advice about how to secure settled status through the UK Government's immigration system.
"This new Scottish Government funded advice service will be over and above what the UK Government is proposing. By providing additional help, as well as being accessible at Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland, our service will have a particular focus on vulnerable and hard to reach groups who may find it difficult, or are unable or unwilling, to apply online without assistance, including people living in remote and rural areas.
"The Citizens Advice network is highly trusted and I am delighted to be partnering with them on this service. I hope that providing this additional service will help to ensure that EU citizens in Scotland - who are relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues - feel welcome, supported and valued during this uncertain time.
"The Scottish Government is clear that EU citizens should not be being asked to apply to retain the rights that they already have, and that they certainly should not be charged a fee for that application. We will continue to make the case that the UK Government should scrap their unfair fee for settled status applications."
Citizens Advice Scotland CEO Derek Mitchell said:
"Brexit has left many people in Scotland feeling uncertain about their rights, and all the signs are that these uncertainties could continue for some time. It is essential that people have a trusted source of advice and support which is completely confidential, free and independent of government. The Scottish CAB network is proud to fit that description and stands ready to help EU citizens with all the advice they need."