Michał Siewniak is a Trustee of New Europeans UK. He works in the community voluntary sector and supports the needs of different community groups with advice and advocacy, helping build the organisational capacity of these groups.
“New Europeans is doing a fantastic job giving a platform to all who cherish their citizenship rights and the values that underpin them. I am proud to be able to be part of the team.”
He has many years of experience in motivating people and helping them to fulfil their potential. Michał is passionate about diversity issues and in his commitment to equal opportunities.
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I am sure that most of us, who know, work with, or have friends and family members from Europe living in the UK, have heard of the words ‘pre-settled’ or ‘settled status’ mentioned in conversations. The reference here is to the EU Settlement Scheme – a scheme, which is crucial for ensuring that all Europeans living in the UK can continue to receive the same entitlements they had before the transition period ended in December 2020.
I am pleased that I was able to deliver a number of events across the county of Hertfordshire, which promoted and explained the importance of the EU Settlement Scheme. Each of these meetings was organised in partnership with various agencies, including Watford Borough Council or B3Living, Housing Association based in the Borough of Broxbourne. Hatfield, Hoddesdon and Watford are only some of the places we visited. Overall, around 100 people took part in our EU Settlement Schemes events. The events helped disseminate the key objectives of this crucial exercise by bringing a wide range of experts and speakers together.
There was one other aspect of these events, which is worth highlighting. Our meetings were a fantastic opportunity to gather EU citizens (but not only!) living in different parts of Hertfordshire and give them a platform to connect with democracy, and in particular with the progress of the Brexit process. In Watford, some of the EU citizens who attended our meeting have never been to the Town Hall. It was wonderful to bring ‘democracy closer to the people’!
Earlier this year, in February 2021, I had a closer look at the data, produced by the Home Office, in relation to the EU Settlement Scheme. It was encouraging to see that such a significant number of EU citizens had already submitted their applications. It is fair to say that overall, the process is relatively simple and straightforward for those that are digitally capable.
The figures show that, up to the end of January 2021: 5.06 million applications were received of which more than 4.5 million were granted status. Of the remaining applications, 51,400 (1%) received a withdrawn or void outcome, 50,600 (1%) were invalid and 38,900 (0.8%) were refused. It is slightly concerning that previously applications could have been refused on the grounds of criminality, however now, applications might be refused on grounds of eligibility, which is clearly open to interpretation. In my view, this might particularly affect more vulnerable EU citizens. In total, the number of rejected applications on the eligibility grounds increased from 7 in February 2020 to 300 in March 2020. Could this slight ‘change of guidance and direction’ coincide with the UK’s departure from the EU, which happened on 31 January 2020? Will this trend continue in the future?
Let’s imagine for a moment that someone you know had to return to their home country to look after a family member as a result of COVID-19. I must admit that I was concerned to read this week, in the Times, that thousands of European citizens who returned home during the COVID-19 crisis face losing their long-term right to stay in Britain, under strict new Home Office rules.
The government, not for the first time, decided not to relax the restrictions agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement for those who chose to return home. This arrangement will “only” apply to people who were given the provisional right to remain at the end of the transition period but still need to gain the full settled status. If someone leaves Britain for more than 6 months, they will automatically lose the right to gain settled status. What if this person had to take an unpaid leave to return to the country of their origin? What if this person has a job in the UK and pays rent? Possible scenarios? I think so.
The good news is that in March 2020, the government awarded additional contracts worth £8 million to 57 charities across the UK to help EU citizens to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. A further £4.85 million of grant funding has also been announced this week for the network of 72 organisations who support vulnerable people in applying to the scheme.
We must ensure that our rights to live, study and work in the UK are safeguarded and protected. We need to encourage our fellow Europeans to fully ‘embrace’ this new, albeit uncertain situation and we must continue to work together for our voices to be heard.