First, a big thank you to Bath for Europe for inviting me to be a guest blogger.
I’m Véronique Martin, a French Bathonian of 30 years, the co-editor of the not-for-profit book In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK and the associate director of the In Limbo Project.
The In Limbo Project team is not a group of immigration lawyers or political lobbyists: we are volunteers whose aim is to collect and relay the unheard and disenfranchised voices of the 5 million EU in UK and UK in EU citizens most affected by Brexit – our second book, In Limbo Too, is an anthology of Brexit testimonies from British citizens in the EU. Our goal is to show the human cost of Brexit. Our latest edition of In Limbo, with an added chapter on the EU Settlement Scheme, will be published soon and I will share in this blogpost a few of the new testimonies it contains.
My topic today is the current situation of the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK. More than a year after the application for Settled Status, also known as EUSS, was imposed on all EU, EEA and Swiss citizens in the UK to be allowed to stay in their home here, what is the situation for us, your EU neighbours, colleagues, friends or family?
Our two main ongoing concerns about EUSS, in a long list that I will talk more about in further blogposts, are:
First the fact that the government is refusing to give us a physical documentation of our immigration status, like a card proving we have Settled Status.
This lack of physical proof leads already to discrimination for jobs and accommodation. Here is one of several testimonies on that subject from our latest edition of In Limbo; it comes from an Austrian citizen:
“I had applied for a job and everything was going smashing. The feedback received could not have been more glowing. I was really excited because I really liked the company and the people working there.
However, I received a call yesterday confirming the positive feedback but, in a nutshell, telling me they will take two British candidates forward because, I quote, ‘it’s less risky’.
I was floored, as you might imagine.
I am dreading future applications as my EU citizenship might be the reason I will end up unemployed. Can’t even speculate what this would mean for my right to stay.”
Access to NHS treatment too seems to be at stake. Only today, a fellow EU citizen contacted me to recount how he was subjected to discrimination when he had to visit the Bath RUH A&E. Once he had explained he was not a foreign visitor here, had lived in the UK for the past three years and had pre-EUSS, he still received an email asking him for four documents to prove his residency, at least one of them being about earnings (a P60 or six months of payslips, a council tax receipt, a bank account statement and a mortgage or tenancy agreement). He was even told that his pre-EUSS was irrelevant to show his entitlement to the NHS. Feeling both angry and vulnerable, he concluded: “Once again, I feel like I don’t belong here even though my home is here and here only. This is insane and I am fed up with having to justify I am a legitimate UK resident, ONCE AGAIN.”
While the government is making it hard for us to work and live here, Boris Johnson, after telling us we had “used the UK as our home for too long” last December, has recently been begging EU workers to come back to the UK. Imagine my dismay when I read this headline on Twitter: “We want you back’ – Boris Johnson urges EU workers to return to UK to help the economy.” What on Earth does he want?
Of course, his invitation no longer comes on the fair and equal terms of Freedom of Movement but instead on the punitive post-Brexit terms of his government’s hostile environment.
Our second ongoing concern is about those who will fall through the net and will not have managed to apply for EUSS before the deadline in June 2021.
These people will become immediately illegal, which means, in the hostile environment created by Theresa May and hardened by Priti Patel, that they will lose everything and may even be deported (that was confirmed by minister Brendan Lewis in October last year). And this is why Settled Status being a non-declaratory system is such a big problem.
Indeed, the government’s refusal to allow us to assert our right to be here through a declaratory system means that, I’m quoting from an official parliamentary text published on 14 January 2020: “Under the EUSS, people who don’t apply will have no immigration status, and critics are concerned about vulnerable people who fail to apply.”
Many EU citizens are still unaware of needing to apply for EUSS, as these two testimonies from our latest In Limbobook explain:
“Today I met an elderly lady, 82, and, bless her, she had no idea about Settled Status. She thought she doesn’t have to do anything because she was married to a British man, has a British son, bought a house here and has been in the U.K. for a very long time. I am very worried about the lack of information elderly people are receiving about Settled Status.” (Ivana Bugler, Slovakia)
The second testimony is from a Polish citizen:
“In Bradford, giving advice to EU citizens on Settled Status, I spoke to at least 3 people who had never heard of it. I’ve spoken to 248 people overall and 209 had never heard of Settlement Status. I started carrying out a survey about this for our Polish Community in Bradford and in April 2020 only 5,360 Poles out of over 14,000 had applied and obtained Settled Status. The answers I received made me feel sick about how Polish people in the UK feel. We need to figure out how to reach the most vulnerable.”
So what we need to go on asking the government is:
- To give EU citizens a physical proof of their immigration status (as is already the case for other groups of migrants).
- To change the current constitutive format of the EUSS, where EU citizens lose all their acquired rights until they’re given EUSS, into a declaratory format, where their rights are protected in primary law, allowing those who have not managed to make the deadline to apply for EUSS as soon as they can without becoming illegal. Postponing the EUSS deadline is another possible request but it doesn’t go to the root of the problem.
It is a shame we have to deal with these problems, as our requests are nothing but the bare minimum to ask a government made of the very people who promised us there would be no change to the rights and guarantees on which we have built our lives in the UK in good faith.
Thank you for your precious friendship and support.
 The current system is a constitutive one: https://www.freemovement.org.uk/this-is-how-to-stop-brexit-causing-a-new-windrush-scandal-for-eu-citizens/?fbclid=IwAR0PX9cinOdrjcH2i1AM09-QkRzkJA0fDCZM1u8n9Eam7AMpfoa2RnQbLAQ