Adam Zamecnik 19th November 2019
Rumours about the fate of EU nationals living in the UK have been a more or less continuous feature in the British media since late-2016. In what appeared to be a sudden change in policy by the new Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this year, it was announced that free movement of EU nationals in the UK would end on the 31 October. Despite this deadline passing, there are still no clear answers.
While the Government quickly assured some 3.6 million EU nationals that there would be no changes to the already established EU Settlement Scheme, many EU nationals feel increasingly worried about the future.
As an EU national myself, Brexit has become a centrepiece of living in the UK, permeating through the internet, the media and, most importantly, the conversations I’ve had. “What will you do? Are you going to go back home?” some have asked.
Such questions have become too frequent to ignore, and at this late stage, I almost have prepared a set of universal answers to give, centred on the future of my stay here and the EU Settlement Scheme.
A KAFKAESQUE PROCESS
In a nutshell, the EU Settlement Scheme assigns the applicant either “Pre-Settled Status”, giving them five years’ worth of post-Brexit residence in the UK, or the more sought after “Settled Status”, a permanent residence of sorts awarded to those who have supplied evidence of living in the UK for five or more years.
Although this may, so far, seem quite simple, the scheme has faced a considerable amount of backlash. Advertised as a smart, digital solution, it requires the scanning of one’s passport using a specially designed smartphone app. However, due to technical difficulties, the Home Office has spent months developing an app for iPhone, encountering significant criticism from the general public and EU nationals.
There are stories of frustrated EU nationals who have lived in the UK for decades, only to have their applications for Settled Status rejected.
Of course, one can borrow a phone from a friend or get help from listed organisations, but the simple reality of the Government being unable to fully prepare for such a large-scale operation remains staggering.
And then there are stories of frustrated EU nationals who have lived in the UK for decades, only to have their applications for Settled Status rejected. Letters published in national newspapers and posts shared on Twitter show that even the most “integrated” of EU nationals were rejected, be it children who have gone through the entirety of the British education system or a Polish chef who has cooked for royalty.
While these may seem like unfortunate mistakes which will be quickly solved, they are equally signs of the unpredictable position of EU nationals within the UK. Indeed, despite the high success rates of applications to the scheme, the proportion of “Pre-Settled” applications to “Settled” applications is increasing, with 42% of applicants now being given the temporary stay.
Running out of time in the UK is a daunting possibility
Knowing that there are already cases of individuals who have made this country their home, only to be rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence, the outcome of the application is becoming a matter of uncertainty and worry.
Having already received the “Pre-Settled Status”, I have little to fear in the next five years. However, despite having ample time to subsequently apply for the “Settled Status” and include detailed evidence of my residence, I cannot be entirely sure of the outcome itself. And while there are ways how to review the application in case of rejection, it seems that running out of time in the UK would become an equally daunting possibility.
BRITAIN’S MAIN CARDS
Over the past three years, NGOs and EU authorities have voiced concerns about the future of EU nationals in the UK — something former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox described as one of Britain’s “main cards” in Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Indeed, the worries of many EU nationals appear to have only been postponed, instead of being laid to rest, and it’s not clear at all what will happen to people from the EU who want to come here, especially those transitioning from a student visa to a work visa.
In this sense, I can only admit the sheer amount of luck I have had to arrive here before such changes will be set in motion.
Eastern European immigrants have felt increased anxiety regarding Brexit, as well as the loss of a sense of belonging in the UK
Investigations into the lives of EU nationals here have shown that fears of an unpredictable, post-Brexit future have taken their toll on the mental health of some EU nationals. According to a study at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, particularly Eastern European immigrants have felt increased anxiety regarding Brexit, as well as the loss of a sense of belonging in the UK.
In addition to such feelings, the study also reported 77% of young Eastern Europeans have “experienced racism”. With some EU nationals requiring additional support, be it due to financial constraints or linguistic difficulties, support centres and groups have appeared, such as the East European Resource Centre in London or Feniks in Scotland.
University students are also facing a set of particular uncertainties. When will universities start charging EU nationals international rates? The question of different fees yet remains to be answered, to the great concern of university bodies such as Universities UK. Similarly, what will happen to those who have just enrolled to study at a university in the case of no-deal Brexit? While the universities seek to support their EU students, they are part of only one out of many industries that remain at risk of Brexit.
Having based our lives here for the past several years, are we the ones who have “made it” in time?
All of this has become a matter of great worry to me and fellow university graduates who have come to the UK in search of a world-class education and countless job opportunities. Despite the support from the European Union, our governments and, indeed, the universities we attend, our future remains unpredictable.
What if our “Settled Status” applications are rejected when we run out of our temporary right to remain? How will the new, supposedly points-based immigration system inspired by Australian measures affect us? Having based our lives here for the past several years, are we the ones who have “made it” in time? And as fresh-out-of-university graduates, what will Brexit and its effects on the British economy do to our career prospects in the next few years?
Countless questions are still waiting to be answered. Knowing how the past three years have gone by, we won’t see the answers anytime close.
Adam Zamecnik 19th November 2019