Hundreds of thousands of EU migrants face losing their access to benefits, healthcare, livelihood, and even their right to remain where they now consider home, as UK “settled status” applications comes to an end on 30 June.
The “settled status” process itself it a betrayal of the promises made in the run up to the EU referendum, when migrants were repeatedly assured their status in the UK would be safe in the event of Brexit. Most applications have been approved, but many have been given insecure “pre-settled status”, some have been rejected outright, and unknown numbers have not applied.
The Tories have bragged about how many people the process has reached, but in fact they don’t know how many EU migrants are in the UK. They care little about the tens of thousands who potentially face their lives being ruined. The government has only very recently changed the rules on still being eligible if “trapped” overseas by Covid rules. Many people will be unaware that they are now eligible.
Many of the most vulnerable — those who require face to face assistance or without adequate computer literacy, children in care, people suffering personal crises — will not yet have applied. A recent leak suggests that 130,000 migrants currently on benefits haven’t yet applied for settled status, with 70% of those falling into a vulnerable category, putting them at risk of being thrown into more precarious situations.
Landlords and employers have been told that they don’t have to make retrospective checks on people’s right to work, but that is worlds apart from saying they must not. Many are already turning down those who cannot prove their right to work, creating havoc for the hundreds of thousands yet to hear back about their status. In the coming days, the Home Office will begin to send 28-day enforcement notices, allowing for late applications (if there are “reasonable grounds” for being late) to be submitted before the Home Office takes action.
Immigration lawyers have pointed out that this gives the impression that EU citizens will still have rights, but really their rights expire on 1 July, leaving them at the mercy of a particularly merciless and uncaring Home Office.
The Labour Party was missing in (in)action on this issue right up until 26 June, just four days before the deadline. Under pressure from activists, the Labour leadership has finally called on the government to extend the deadline, but only to September. Starmer must be pushed to keep the promise he made in his leadership campaign, to defend free movement with the EU27.
Lexiteers have been quiet on the issue, despite their insistence that Brexit didn’t mean throwing EU migrants under the bus.
Community actions like those seen in Glasgow and the campaign against the deportation of Osime Brown can beat back the Home Office, win concessions and protect people. Trade unions must campaign for workers in their industries who will now feel the sharp edge of the “Hostile Environment”.
The labour movement must organise again to defend and extend the rights of migrants in the UK.