Caitlin Boswell joined the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) in July 2019 to lead on the EU citizens project, campaigning for EU citizens’ rights through reform of the EU Settlement Scheme and monitoring its impact particularly for marginalised groups most at risk of slipping through the cracks in the scheme. 

Prior to this she worked as an Advocate & Outreach Worker, providing one-to-one support for migrant women affected by the criminal justice system and/or immigration restrictions.

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This post is part of the “EUSS Countdown” weekly series running up to the application deadline of the EU Settlement  Scheme on June 30 2021.

If you are yet to apply, please do so here. For more help in a number of community languages, visit our Resource Hub.

With just a couple of weeks to go until the EU Settlement Scheme deadline on 30 June 2021, tens of thousands of EU citizens remain at risk of becoming undocumented and vulnerable to Hostile Environment policies including detention and removal.

It’s important to remember that this all comes down to political choice. The Government designed the EUSS in a way that means anyone who does not apply on time loses their legal status and rights. This will create a new population of undocumented migrants overnight and trigger a silent wave of EU citizens who will gradually fall out of status over the next 5 years if they are unable to “upgrade” to settled status once their temporary pre-settled status runs out. `

The numbers of people at risk of falling out of status are not insignificant. We are pleased that 5.4 million people have made applications, but if even 1% of EU residents in the UK are unable to apply on time, that will leave tens of thousands of EU citizens without legal status or basic rights. Our European friends and neighbours who have lived and worked here for years could be criminalised for doing something as simple as going to work or driving a car.

Charities have produced a huge body of evidence showing that it is the most marginalised who are at greatest risk slipping through the cracks. At JCWI our research showed that EU care workers and other key workers – the very people we are relying on to get us through the COVID crisis – are also in real danger of being left behind. A Home Office survey found that 33% of identified looked-after children have not yet applied to the EUSS. With less than 3 weeks until the deadline, this should paint a stark warning around the scale of the disaster the Government is walking into.

Earlier this year JCWI took the Government to court over the discriminatory nature of the scheme. The courts effectively decided that we needed to wait for EU citizens to fall off the cliff edge before bringing a claim, rather than accepting the wide range of evidence JCWI presented to show that this was going to happen to the most vulnerable groups. We think this is wrong. We shouldn’t have to wait for harm to happen when there are clear ways of preventing it. We are all aware of what happened to the Windrush generation and witnessed the devastating consequences they faced and continue to face at the hands of Home Office decision-making. This is a chance for the Government to do the right thing before even more people feel the full force of the Hostile Environment.

The solutions are simple. JCWI along with other migrants’ rights organisations and MPs from all parties have repeatedly called on the Government to lift the EUSS deadline and grant EU citizens automatic settled status. This is the only way to avoid tens of thousands of EU citizens becoming undocumented and facing criminalisation simply for living their daily lives.

The movement for EU citizens’ rights and a fairer immigration system must start with undocumented migrants who exist at the sharpest end of the Hostile Environment. JCWI’s new “We Are Here” campaign proposes workable reforms such as new, straightforward routes to regularisation, birthright citizenship and scrapping the “illegal working” offence to break the cycle of irregular migration. Because we all deserve to be treated fairly and equally and feel secure in our homes, regardless of where we are from or what papers we hold.