My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend Caroline Nokes to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, while we are confident in agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible Government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019. We have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights that will protect those EU citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK until the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020.
We are introducing the EU settlement scheme under UK immigration law for resident EU citizens and their family members covered by the draft withdrawal agreement. This will enable those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020 to confirm their status under the EU settlement scheme. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible to apply for settled status. Those who have not yet reached five years’ continuous residence will be eligible to be granted pre-settled status and will be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point.
In the unlikely event of a no deal, the Prime Minister has already confirmed that all EU citizens resident here by 29 March 2019 will be welcome to stay. They are part of our community, and part of our country, and we welcome the contribution that they make. Last week, the Prime Minister extended that commitment to citizens of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and we are close to reaching an agreement with Switzerland. We will set out further details shortly so that those affected can have the clarity and certainty they need”.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question in the other place. Last week the Immigration Minister told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that in the event of a no-deal Brexit:
“If somebody has not been here prior to the end of March next year, then employers will have to make sure that they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work”.
First, was that statement correct in all respects: that employers after 29 March 2019 will have to differentiate between resident EU citizens already here and those arriving after our departure from the EU? Secondly, if the Immigration Minister’s statement was correct, what form will these “rigorous checks” after 29 March take that employers will have to make sure that EU citizens not already here prior to that date will have to go through to evidence their right to work? How will these rigorous checks differ from what employers have to do at present when EU citizens seek work here under the existing EU free movement of labour provisions? Finally, when will sadly lacking publicly available written guidance on this specific issue be provided?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. Regarding employer checks, he will know that employers already need to carry out right-to-work checks on EU citizens, and that will not change. It is clear that employers will carry out right-to-work checks on EU citizens as they already do, and they will not be expected to differentiate between a resident EU citizen and those arriving after March 2019. However, in addition, I understand that employers have been given toolkits to enable them to carry out their duties in the right way.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify that? The Prime Minister promised EU citizens that they could stay come what may—that is, in the event of a no deal—and that is repeated in the reply today. First, how can we have confidence in a Prime Ministerial assurance which is then contradicted by a junior Minister? Are the Government planning to introduce legislation in the event of no deal that could impose work restrictions on EU nationals and sanctions on employers in relation to those restrictions? I do not think that that any current legislative requirement would cover that situation. The Minister said that EU nationals are subject to employer checks at the moment. Can she clarify what those checks are, because I think that EU nationals are in a different position to non-EU nationals, who are subject to immigration control? Lastly, will there be other hostile environment checks on rights to healthcare, benefits and so on?
The noble Baroness will know, because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already said it, that there will not be a hostile environment. There will continue to be a compliant environment now and when we leave the European Union. On the Prime Minister’s statement that EU citizens can stay, I do not think that she has been contradicted by a junior Minister. I add that my right honourable friend Caroline Nokes—if that is who the noble Baroness was referring to—is not a junior minister; she is in fact a member of the Cabinet. Is that who the noble Baroness was referring to?
She has not contradicted the Prime Minister, as far as I am aware. Employers will carry out those right-to-work checks, as they have to date. The beta testing scheme over the past couple of months has already started the ball rolling for citizens regularising their status to be able to stay in this country. That will be rolled out more fully in the new year.
My Lords, I understood from the Minister in the other place that the Government are minded to bring forward an immigration Bill shortly that will set out the criteria for skilled workers post Brexit. Will my noble friend give the House an assurance that those currently filling positions in care places and hospitals who are not deemed to be skilled workers will still be admitted after Brexit to continue to fill those roles if they are not filled otherwise?
My noble friend is absolutely right that an immigration Bill will be arriving in the Commons shortly. If those people currently filling places are EU citizens—I am guessing she was referring to EU citizens—have been here for five years, they can automatically get their settled status. If they have not been here for five years, they can get temporary status, which will become full status when they have been here for five years.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm reports that victims of modern slavery and women who have been trafficked who are EU citizens will be required to pay a fee to the Home Office before they are allowed to stay? Can she explain the reasons behind that, given how difficult it can be to enable victims of modern slavery to come forward to be rescued?
The noble Lord raises a very valid point about victims of modern slavery, who will be supported and helped when they come here no matter what country they are from. Depending on their situation, they will be helped either to move on within this country or to move back to the country of their origin.
My Lords, is it not the case that post-Brexit, we will be able to allow anyone whom we want to have in the UK to live and work here? Is it not also the case that we will not need to put visa controls on EU citizens if we do not want to and we want to have them here?
My noble friend is right and the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear. That is why we are making those arrangements for EU citizens to have their settled status here, either pre-settled if they have been here less than five years or settled if they have been here for five years or more. We want them to stay here and continue to work here. The Prime Minister has made that crystal clear; it would be good if the EU could also do that.
Can the Minister clarify the reports last week about people who achieve settled status but subsequently leave the United Kingdom for a prolonged period of years? Would their settled status allow them to come back into the United Kingdom after, say, five years and achieve the rights they had prior to their departure?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that some people might come here and then leave and then come back again. Five years’ continuous residence in this country will entitle people to settled status, but they can apply for pre-settled status if they have been here for less than five years. On the point about getting settled status, leaving and then coming back again, I will have to get back to him because I do not know the answer.
My Lords, the original Answer refers to applications that will be needed, and those will not be entirely straightforward for everyone. I appreciate that pilots are going on at the moment, but people such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, might well not find it easy—indeed, find it a deterrence—facing the bureaucracy and dealing with the authority that this involves. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will consider sympathetically a different way of dealing with people in this group and the possibility of waiving the fee for them?
My Lords, it is very important to outline that anybody who is vulnerable in any way—including victims of modern slavery, sex-trafficking or whatever it might be—will get the support that they need from the appropriate authorities when they arrive here. I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and say that fees will be waived because, as far as I know, they will not be. However, I can say that people who need our support will get it when they arrive here in very vulnerable situations.