The Home Office is putting in place a range of support for EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. This includes assisted digital support for those unable to make online applications, a new customer contact centre and indirect support to be provided through organisations such as community groups and charities.
I am of course pleased that the Minister has made clear the Government’s commitment to European Union citizens living here, particularly because there are parties in this House who have spread fear and alarm among EU citizens by questioning the Government’s commitment to their status. Does the Minister agree that those Members who spread fear and alarm should set the record straight and reassure those in our communities who are from the EU that their rights are guaranteed?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of sending a message of reassurance to EU citizens living here not only that they can stay but that we want them to stay and are taking steps through our settled status scheme to enable them to do so through a straightforward online digital process. I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that 95% of the people who have been through the first phase of beta testing of the settled status scheme found it very straightforward to use.
Some EU countries, including the Netherlands, have restrictions on holding dual nationality, which is leading to some Dutch citizens here having to choose between a UK or Dutch passport. What can the Minister do to reassure the Dutch diaspora in the UK that Brexit will not have an impact on their rights? Is she reaching out to her European counterparts to see what progress can be made in persuading other member states to loosen their restrictions?
The UK allows individuals to hold other nationalities alongside their British citizenship, and those with dual nationality already have the right of abode here and do not need to do anything. EU citizens do not need to obtain British citizenship in order to protect their status and can remain here indefinitely by applying to the settled status scheme, so there is no need for them to relinquish their current nationality. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about reaching out to other EU member states. It is important that we continue that work, because they are vital partners when it comes to spreading the message to the diaspora communities about their right to stay.
The Roma are still among the most marginalised EU citizens in this country. Will the Minister say what special steps the Government are taking to reach out to Roma support groups to encourage their citizens to apply for settled status and to support those who have digital or English-language difficulties?
In October, we announced £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations so that they may assist people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, through the process of applying for settled status in this country. We want to ensure that the maximum number of people apply and that those requiring the most support can access it easily via assisted digital services or, in exceptional cases, face-to-face support. It is important that we acknowledge that many groups may face challenges, which is why the Government have made £9 million available to help.
Given the likely large number of applicants, has the Minister considered allocating specific funding to Citizens Advice?
As I mentioned in my previous answer, we are providing up to £9 million of grant funding, which will be made available to civil society organisations to mobilise services targeted at vulnerable EU citizens. We already work with a group of organisations, including local councils, to help them to help their residents, but the scheme will be open to applications from bodies exactly like Citizens Advice, and I hope that many such organisations will be prepared to play their part in helping citizens.
This country benefits enormously from the one million Poles who have settled on our island. Will the Minister assure me that she will do everything possible to engage with the Polish community in London? Perhaps she will join me at one of the Polish clubs, such as Ognisko or POSK, to take the message directly to the citizens?
Interestingly, one of my first meetings after becoming Immigration Minister was with the Polish ambassador. We recognise that many Polish citizens live in this country, and working through the embassy and with the diaspora community is one of the best ways of reaching out to them. I would be delighted to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation and shall very much look forward to it.
Statistics from the British Medical Association suggest that nearly four in 10 NHS doctors from the EU are blissfully unaware of the Government’s settled status scheme. Does the Department not need drastically to up its game in raising awareness and ensuring that as many of those who need to apply do apply?
We are already piloting the settled status scheme, and we have established a significant database of EU nationals with whom we correspond regularly via email through Home Office communications channels. Employers also have an enormous role to play. The hon. Gentleman highlights people working in the NHS, so I am delighted to inform him that NHS trusts are reaching out to their employees and working hand in hand with us through the second phase of piloting the settled status scheme.