Natalia Byer is OISC Level 1 EUSS Immigration adviser, volunteering for Settled and UK Butterflies. She’s also a social activist, advocate for the right of migrants and the project manager working with Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC) based in South East.
Her most recent project, ‘Community Toolkit’, aims to access various services and advice in English and Polish.
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Since September 2019, as an EUSS Immigration Adviser, I have helped people of all ages, needs and circumstances. There’s one thing they all have in common – a concern for their future and the future of their children caused by the EU Settlement Scheme. For most of them, obtaining status under the EUSS became a significant contributor to the sense of injustice, lack of security and confusion.
The Home Office keeps repeating that the EUSS application process is a short and straightforward task. I keep asking if this is so straightforward, if myself and other immigration advisers get hundreds of requests for help? The system ignores everyone that has a different set of skills, abilities, and personal circumstances. Instead, EU citizens are perceived as one mass that must ask permission to stay in our homes.
Annie, a French national, arrived in the UK in 1970 before it joined the European Union. Then the security of freedom of movement came. Annie became an English teacher. Now retired but with severe health conditions, she’s treated as someone who is a stranger. Mandatory application to the EUSS felt like an impossible task. At her age and in the circumstances, this is the last thing that should be on her mind. After we submitted Annie’s application, she said that she would not have be able to do it herself without support.
In February 2020, before the pandemic, I met Andrei*. A Romanian national, very vulnerable through his mental health problems and homelessness. We met at the local food project that supports rough sleepers when I ran a drop-in session. He has been in the UK for around 15 years, and has previously worked in the care sector. Due to his vulnerability and difficulties with English, he needed help to understand the complex immigration information. Andrei had to be supported with obtaining a valid ID to be able to start his EUSS application. Then the lockdown came, and the COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for me to continue my involvement. I kept thinking about him and his hardship. Tragically, Andrei passed away in November 2020
One of the most significant flaws of the EUSS system is the digital status. Although young and IT savvy people may be fine, those who struggle with using a computer due to their disability, lack of fixed address or other complex issues are left behind. Despite the Home Office’s reassurance that the system is bulletproof, there are many examples pointing to the contrary. Research shows that the system is proving difficult for employers, who in many instances get confused as to why someone has no physical proof of status. To add an extra layer of complexity, the Home Office expects everyone with a status to update their information each time they change their ID document, address, mobile phone number or email address. In the era of increased social mobility, remembering to inform the Home Office about every change is highly impractical.
The likely outcome of digital status will be more people becoming victims of the Hostile Environment; therefore, it can place EU citizens’ fundamental rights in jeopardy.
As we approach the 30 June 2021 deadline the amount of people desperate for help is increasing. There are also extensive delays in getting a decision or getting through to the EUSS Resolution Centre. Many of the EU citizens whose situations are very complex will likely miss the deadline. Although some of them will fall within the scope of the Reasonable Grounds guidance, their case can only be successful if they have proof. Sadly, there will be people who can’t provide proof. Also, those EU citizens that have applied but are still awaiting their decision past the deadline are at risk of discrimination.
Polish Migrants Organise for Change (POMOC) is a grassroots nonprofit that fosters creative collaboration and actionable solidarity between Polish women living in the UK and other migrant communities.