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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the EU Settlement Scheme.

My Lords, the EU settlement scheme is performing well. This is demonstrated by the latest internal figures, which show that there have been more than 2 million applications. The Home Office is processing up to 20,000 applications a day and most complete applications are being processed in around five days.

My Lords, on 1 June 2016, just before the referendum, the following statement was made:

“There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present”.

That was over the signatures of Michael Gove, the present Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Mr Boris Johnson. Is it not the case that these promises have been systematically broken in some large and many small ways? At present, European Union citizens who are offered settled status in the UK possess legal rights as European Union citizens. In future, they will simply have permissions that can be withdrawn any time. Is this not a total breach of the promise made by these people and is the answer not to scrap the present system and replace it with a simple system of registration?

I could not agree less with the noble Lord. First, the EU settlement scheme is free; secondly, it provides a route to settlement that gives people the same rights as any other British citizen; and, thirdly, it is also a proof of status. I really cannot understand what the noble Lord is saying. He talks about registration: I presume he means a declaratory system. In a declaratory system, we have seen the lessons of Windrush: in years to come people might not be able to prove their status, so I think the EU settlement scheme is the best route forward.

My Lords, what progress is being made to ensure the rights of children in local authority care, who may have uncertain citizenship? Is support being given to make sure that they get their entitlements in good time?

The noble Earl asks a very good question. There are two issues here. First, they might not realise that they can apply to the scheme. Secondly, they might be in local authority care, but we are cognisant of that. We are working with Liverpool University to ensure that children are communicated with and that they can retrospectively apply if, say, through no fault of their own their parent or carer did not manage to apply in time for June 2021.

A Government Minister has apparently said that EU citizens living in Britain risk being deported if they fail to apply by the deadline for settled status. It is highly unlikely that all will apply on time, simply because of the large number of EU citizens affected—I think the figure is some 3 million. What do the Government think this threat of deportation of potentially significant numbers of EU citizens will do to strengthen the position of British citizens living in an EU country who wish to remain in that country? I declare a family interest in this issue.

My Lords, the word “deportation” is crucial here. EEA citizens who do not apply to the EU settlement scheme by the deadline will not be acting unlawfully in the same way that clandestine entrants, arrivals or overstayers do. They will not have knowingly entered the UK in breach of the UK Immigration Acts or overstayed their leave. From 2021, EEA citizens will need to hold either an EUSS leave, a Euro TLR or an immigration status under the new immigration system.

My Lords, the evidence given to the EU Justice Sub-Committee on this very issue outlined the deep concern that members of this settled scheme will not have physical proof—a card or anything else—that proves that they are a member of this scheme. Following Windrush, they are deeply concerned that their only proof will be online, and they will not have any access online other than to refer to such a registration.

I have heard this concern time and again. I can understand how some people might feel that a physical document was somehow more secure and better proof of status. However, in actual fact everyone gets a letter or an email, and the digital status—or token, if you like—is actually a far more secure way of proving status. I acknowledge the concerns that arise when people do not have a physical document in front of them, but they do receive a letter.

My Lords, I declare that I have been registered as a resident in Portugal for the past 30 years. The question of reciprocity potentially becomes centre stage given that no deal is still on the table. Can the Government give an absolute surety that the UK will not jeopardise the rights and privileges of UK citizens on the continent with that still a possibility?

The noble Viscount will of course be aware that as the United Kingdom, we have done our duty by EU citizens in the UK. We have done that unilaterally. We hope that the EU would do the same; therefore, we are reliant on that good will on both sides. But I am satisfied that we now have over 2 million applications out of a cohort that I estimate to be about 3 million.

My Lords, as the Minister just said, therefore 1 million people have not yet applied. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that they are aware that they now need to apply, and their applications can be got in in good time?

The noble Lord will probably be quite pleased to hear that we are processing applications at the rate of about 20,000 a day. People are applying. However, it is crucial that the harder-to-reach people are aware of their rights and aware that they should be applying. In the event of a deal, they have until June 2021 to apply; there is a lot of advertising; and some of the advances in how people can upload their photo and so on have been made easier by the fact that the iPhone 8 and more up-to-date versions will be able to upload people’s details.