Post-Brexit registration system for EU citizens risks repeat of Windrush scandal, ministers warned
The UK’s post-Brexit registration system for European Union citizens risks sparking a repeat of the Windrush scandal, ministers have been warned.
Millions of EU citizens who currently live in the UK will have until June 2021 to apply for "settled status" under a scheme set to fully open when Britain leaves the EU at the end of March.
But a new report by the British Future think tank - launched as fresh public testing of the programme got underway - warned that around thirty per cent of those eligible for the scheme could struggle to do so because of a lack of documentation.
The report said vulnerable groups - including those with limited IT skills or patchy work history - could find it particularly hard to provide the UK Government with the right paperwork.
And they pointed to the major row the Home Office has already faced over an immigration clampdown on longstanding British residents who came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation.
"There are still misunderstandings about the mandatory nature of the scheme, particularly among those who speak little English," the think tank said.
"Stay-at-home parents and children in care may find it difficult to provide evidence of their residency in the UK.
"HMRC records are being cross-linked to Home Office records and used to verify the residency of EU citizens, and already the pilots of the EU Settlement Scheme have shown cases where official records do no match each other.
"Should just 5% of those who need settled status fail to apply or be refused, this adds up to 175,000 people in the UK with an insecure immigration status or no status at all."
They added: "In future this group of EU citizens may find themselves in the same position as those affected by the recent Windrush scandal: destitute, barred from working, at risk of exploitation and unable to access basic services such as the NHS."
The report came as the Home Office published new figures on a trial of the scheme carried out late last year, which ministers said showed the department was "well on track".
A private test of the scheme for health and university staff in the north east of England saw the department receive 29,987 applications, the Home Office said, with 27,211 decisions processed and no applications refused.
Caroline Nokes, immigration minister, said: "From the very beginning we have been clear that securing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK is our priority.
“The report into the second private test phase of the EU settlement scheme shows clearly that we are well on track to deliver a system that will make it easy and straightforward for EU citizens to obtain status once we have left the EU.
“We are now in a position to proceed with the wider public testing of the scheme, which will provide us with further valuable insight before the full launch of the system by the end of March. We are grateful to those individuals and organisations that have participated in the testing so far.”
But British Future called on the Government to ensure that the Home Office had "sufficient immigration casework staff to process complex cases and to help EU citizens who struggle to make their applications".
And it urged ministers to launch a "systematic and sustained" publicity blitz to ensure "hard-to-reach" groups were fully aware of their rights under the scheme.