Campaigners have warned that discrimination against EU citizens will surge this summer because of teething issues with the digital certificates handed out under the new settlement scheme.
The scheme, which was launched in 2019 by the Home Office to register European citizens living in the UK after Brexit, has been criticised for its “lack of inclusivity” and “technical problems”.
Nicolas Hatton, the CEO of EU citizens’ rights organisation the3million, said the online system sometimes does not recognise identity documents needed to prove one’s rights to live, rent and access healthcare in the UK.
He told The London Economic: “We are seeing that people are posting screenshots online when the system doesn’t work, there are a lot of people struggling with their identity documents.
“Ministers said that old documents would always be valid to provide evidence of status but there is a design flaw to this scheme.
“The Home Office has recognised that not everyone can apply electronically but would not recognise that not everyone will be able to prove their status electronically.”
Hatton said people will struggle to prove their status from 1 July without a physical proof.
He said the system is “not inclusive and will discriminate” – and highlighted the difficulties which illiterate people or working people may face. “There will be discrimination in the workplace because some employers won’t be able to check the status,” he said.
“It will create this two-tier society, people who can apply for work, and those who can’t do it because they can’t prove their status.”
Hatton added: “The existing discrimination in Britain will be exacerbated. It’s very concerning that the government will not provide a physical proof for this status.
“Brexit has been very traumatic for many EU citizens, they feel insecure about their lives in Britain, so that is the one thing the government could have done for them to feel secure but which is completely disregarded – even after our campaigning.”
Lara Parizotto, co-chair of the Young Europeans Network at the3million, said the group is receiving “a lot more emails from people concerned about proving their status”.
She told TLE that there are “more and more technical issues”, and the group has been seeing cases where people did “everything correctly” – but still got an error message.
Some go online to look for their status for themselves or their family members and they cannot find it, according to Parizotto, whereas others are reportedly waiting a long time to speak to a government adviser and the line “just cuts off”.
But the organisation has been collecting case studies, and is urging EU citizens to keep submitting evidence.
Parizotto said a lot of people’s concerns come from wanting to go abroad for holiday, but worrying about being detained upon their return to the UK if they cannot access their settled status proof.
“EU citizens who have been stopped at the border caused a bit of anxiety and made them not want to travel,” Parizotto said.
She added: “Technically, they shouldn’t be detained if they have settled status and they have matching identity documents but people have issues because they go online to update their documents and then they are told their details don’t match.
“A lot of people will be fine with a digital-only status but for a lot of people like my grandmother, she wouldn’t be able to prove her status without me. There are a lot of vulnerable residents who need a physical proof and there are a lot of people who just want one.”
Parizotto said the3million has been advising EU citizens to take their utility bills with them when they travel “just to be sure”. But she admitted the scheme is a big complication post-Brexit, despite the government’s promises that nothing will change for EU citizens.
“Everything has changed, the simple fact that we have to apply for status is not what they had promised,” she said.
Kevin Foster, the UK minister for future borders and immigration, said: “The EU Settlement Scheme has been open now for more than two years and I am delighted the landmark scheme has already surpassed 5.4 million applications – I would urge all those eligible to apply as soon as possible so they can secure the status they deserve in UK law.
“Where a person has reasonable grounds for missing the 30 June deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. The Home Office has also made up to £22 million available in funding for a network of 72 UK organisations to help vulnerable people apply for the scheme, and has invested nearly £8 million in marketing campaigns to encourage people to apply to the EUSS.
“Physical documents may get lost or expire a digital status will not, and can be accessed any time, with comparable nations such as Australia having moved successfully to wholly digital status some years ago.”
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