by Hamish Fraser, Project Co-ordinator for the EU Citizens Support Service.
This article was first published in the Herald newspaper on 27 May.
It’s becoming a weekly tradition that we stand at our front door and clap to show support to NHS staff, carers and all essential workers to recognise their efforts in the fight against the coronavirus and to keep the services that we all rely on operating.
Many of those working throughout the pandemic to support the most vulnerable people in society are not UK citizens. You also have to look at the hospitality and food processing industries to see that it is high numbers of non-UK citizens who keep these sectors going.
When the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016 the future and status of the approximate 3.5 million EEA and Swiss citizens, , living in the UK became uncertain. Many of these people have lived the vast majority of their lives in the UK and call this place their home.
The UK Government introduced the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) March 2019 and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) received funding from the Scottish Government and shortly afterwards the Home Office to provide a service in Scotland to help individuals to understand how they are affected by changes to immigration rules as a result of our leaving the EU.
Our service started in 1st April 2019 and with the 59 Citizens Advice Bureaux in Scotland, who are all able to give immigration advice, we set up a team of specialist advisers, a national helpline and a solicitor-led service for any complex cases. The advisers are based in bureaux around the country and the solicitor-led service is based at Lanarkshire Community Law Centre.
In the first year our advisers helped 5,688 people with their applications and we saw the numbers contacting our bureaux for immigration advice increase by 178% from the previous year.
Since formally leaving the EU in January 2020 we are in a transition period which runs until 31 December 2020 and EU citizens and their non-EU family members must apply under the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) before 30th June 2021 if they wish to remain in the UK.
An application to the EUSS will normally provide a person with Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status. Settled Status gives a person Indefinite Leave to Remain and Pre-settled Status gives Limited Leave to Remain for 5 years.
In Scotland there have been 172,830 applications made to the EUSS up to 31st March 2020 of these 97,470 have been granted Settled Status. However, of the applications processed 37% have been awarded Pre-Settled Status.
The awarding of Settled Status is given to those that are able to provide proof of residency in the UK for at least 5 years and not have a serious or repeat offending history. Many EU citizens are unable to provide proof of residence for 5 years as they may not have tenancy agreements or have worked cash in hand and are given Pre-settled Status when they have been resident for 5 or more years.
It is only now, with approximately 374,000 people in Scotland on the UK Government’s furlough scheme that many EU citizens are having their first experience of having to claim benefits. The 60,000 EU citizens living in Scotland that have been granted Pre-settled Status may be having to make their first ever claim to benefits. This is where they will encounter problems as they will have to pass the DWP’s Habitual Residency Test and the Right to Reside Test.
If an EU citizen has Settled Status they automatically satisfy the conditions of the Habitual Residency Test as they have Indefinite Leave to Remain. Those with Pre-settled Status will have to satisfy the DWP that they meet the conditions of the Habitual Residency and Right to Reside tests as Limited Leave to Remain is insufficient in its own right to satisfy these tests. Similar restrictions also apply to the submission of an application to a local authority for assistance with housing.
It is important that anyone with Pre-settled Status and has been in the UK for 5 years takes steps to have their status reviewed and this is where Citizens Advice Scotland’s service can provide people with the support that they need to gain indefinite leave to remain in the UK and not encounter problems with any claims for benefit or assistance with housing.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown that many of those that are in low paid jobs are the very people that have kept this country running and cared for our sick and elderly while we work from the relative safety of our homes. So tomorrow night when you stand on your doorstep at 8pm, think about all of the EU citizens carrying out these roles and if you know someone who hasn’t applied for settled status, remind them that the Citizens Advice network is here to help.