Report on the impact to EEA and Swiss nationals

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 16th June 2020.

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“(1) This Act shall not come into effect until a Minister of the Crown has laid a report before each House of Parliament setting out the impact of the Act on EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must consider—

(a) the impact on EEA and Swiss nationals of having no recourse to public funds under Immigration Rules;

(b) the impact of NHS charging for EEA and Swiss nationals;

(c) the impact of granting citizenship to all EEA and Swiss health and social care workers working in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic;

(d) the impact of amending the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2018 to remove all fees for applications, processes and services for EEA and Swiss nationals; and

(e) the merits of the devolution of powers over immigration from the EEA area and Switzerland to (i) Senedd Cymru; (ii) the Scottish Parliament; and (iii) the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(3) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than six months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.

(4) In this section, ‘health and social care workers’ includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector.”—

This new clause would ensure that before this Act coming into force, Parliament would have a chance to discuss how EEA and Swiss nationals will be affected by its provisions, including no recourse to public funds conditions, NHS charging, the possibility of granting British citizenship to non-British health and social care workers, removing citizenship application fees and the potential devolution of immigration policy of EEA and Swiss nationals to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 10—Extension of registration for EU Settlement Scheme—

“(1) The EU Settlement Scheme deadline shall be extended by a period of six months unless a motion not to extend the deadline is debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament.

(2) Any motion not to extend, referred to in subsection (1), must be debated and approved no later than three months before the deadline.

(3) In this section, ‘the EU Settlement Scheme Deadline’ means the deadline for applying for settled or pre-settled status under the Immigration Rules.”

This new clause would ensure the EU settlement scheme was not closed to new applications until Parliament has approved its closure.

New clause 11—Application after the EU Settlement Scheme deadline—

“(1) An application to the EU Settlement Scheme after the EU settlement scheme deadline must still be decided in accordance with appendix EU of the Immigration Rules, unless reasons of public policy, public security, or public health apply in accordance with Regulation 27 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 (as they have effect at the date of application or as they had effect immediately before they were revoked).

(2) In this section—

‘an application to the EU Settlement Scheme’ means an application for pre-settled or settled status under appendix EU of the Immigration Rules;

‘the EU Settlement Scheme Deadline’ means the deadline for applying for settled or pre-settled status under appendix EU of the Immigration Rules.”

This new clause would ensure that late applications to the EU settlement scheme will still be considered, unless reasons of public policy, public security or public health apply.

New clause 25—Report on status of EEA and Swiss nationals after the transition—

“(1) This Act shall not come into effect until a Minister of the Crown has laid a report before each House of Parliament setting out the impact of the Act on EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must clarify the position of EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK during the period between the end of the transition period and the deadline for applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.

(3) A report under subsection (1) must include, but not be limited to, what rights EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the UK on 31 December 2020 have to—

(a) work in the UK;

(b) use the NHS for free;

(c) enrol in education or continue studying;

(d) access public funds such as benefits and pensions; and

(e) travel in and out of the UK.”

This new clause would require Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the EU in the grace period between the end of the transition period, and the closure of the EU Settlement Scheme.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

With new clause 9, which stands principally in the names of my hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru, we turn to the central matter of the Bill: what will happen to EEA and Swiss nationals who are already here? The new clause simply calls on the Government to report on what the implications for EEA and Swiss nationals will be. That includes reporting on the impact of no recourse to public funds, NHS charging, the granting of citizenship to all EEA and Swiss health and social care workers working in the UK during covid-19, and certain fees. It also includes—we will probably not discuss this in great detail—the merits of the devolution of powers over immigration from the EEA and Switzerland to different parts of the United Kingdom. Those are all perfectly reasonable requests.

I want to focus on new clauses 10 and 11, which bring us back to the settlement scheme. We touched on that on Thursday, when Opposition Members made the case for a declaratory system, meaning that people would have their rights automatically enshrined in law. It would still apply to the settlement scheme so that they could prove their status and navigate employment, social security and other rights. I regret that the Government and the Committee rejected that proposal, but I have taken that on the chin and moved on. However, that puts the Government under a greater obligation to spell out what should happen to eligible individuals who do not apply for the settlement scheme by 30 June 2021. I have tried on a huge number of occasions to get them to reveal what work they have done to estimate how many people might not apply, even in broad-brush terms, and how they would respond.

As we heard in evidence, it is blindingly obvious that, even with all the good work that is going on, the Government will struggle to get above 90% of the target population. Getting above 90% would be a great success, given the international comparison. If the Government fall just 5%, 6% or 7% short of the target, hundreds of thousands of people will suddenly be without status and will lose any right to be in this country on 1 July 2021. By all accounts, this is a huge issue and we need to push the Home Office further to set out how it will address it. So far, all we have been told is that it will take a reasonable approach. That is fine, but it is not enough. We need much more detail, and new clauses 10 and 11 are designed to push the Government on that.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that extending the deadline by six months would encourage those who have been putting it off to put it off for another six months?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Not really. People still have every incentive to apply for the scheme. On 1 July next year the deadline will have passed. People might put it off for six months, but I would far rather that than subject tens and probably hundreds of thousands of people to not having any rights at all. It is much the lesser of two evils. As I say, there are different ways in which we can do this. New clause 11 would allow people to apply after the deadline. I will turn to that in a moment. I want to set out exactly what new clauses 10 and 11 are designed to do.

New clause 10 would ensure that the EU settlement scheme was not closed to new applications until Parliament had approved its closure. We want to see what the plans are and scrutinise how the situation will be handled. Until we are satisfied, we will keep extending the scheme in order to protect people from the loss of their rights and from the hostile environment and the threat of removal. Why on earth should MPs give the Home Office a blank cheque to deal with this as it pleases? We will have that debate and the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby can make his point that it will lead to a delay in people making applications, but I am firmly of the view that that is much the lesser of two evils.

On the closure of the settlement scheme, people who have not applied for a status will have no legal basis to remain in the UK after the grace period, no matter how long they have lived in the UK. They will be liable to removal and will face the hostile environment. After the grace period, a huge group of people will still not have applied. No similar scheme has ever reached 100% of its target audience. New clause 11 would bring back control of the situation to Parliament and allow us to be fully informed as to where the settlement scheme has got and what the Government’s plans are for dealing with this huge issue before we sign off on closure of the scheme. It is a modest proposal, but hugely important.

New clause 11 would ensure that late applications to the EU settlement scheme would still be considered unless reasons of public policy, public security or public health apply. In tabling the new clause, we are asking the Minister who he thinks does not deserve a second chance after 30 June next year. Who does not deserve the reasonable response that he has spoken about in the past? Under the new clause, applications made after the deadline could be ignored for restricted reasons relating to public policy, public security or public health. However, we want to know who, on top of that, the Minister thinks should be deprived of their rights and the ability to remedy the situation in which they find themselves. People will be unable to live in this country and they will be liable to removal. We need to know much more about the grounds on which people will be able to make a late application. What are the reasonable grounds that the Home Office will accept? They have yet to be defined. As far as we can tell, they will comprise only a very narrow list of exemptions, including, for example, for those with a physical or mental incapacity, and for children whose parents have failed to apply on their behalf.

As I have said many times, the deadline will be missed by many people for good reasons beyond those that I have just outlined. People will simply not be aware of the need to apply, and people with pre-settled status might forget to reapply for full settled status. I have set out a million times why people will not understand that the settlement scheme applies to them. Rules on nationality and immigration status in this country are hugely complicated. There will undoubtedly be people from all walks of life who think that they are British citizens and who already have a right of residence in this country. They will not appreciate that, in fact, they need to apply to the scheme. The consequences of making such a mistake can be dreadful. If we simply leave the Bill as it is, people will lose the right to be in this country and will be removed and subject to the hostile environment. Alternatively, we could at least leave open to them the option of being able to apply to the scheme after the deadline has passed. They would still have every incentive to apply, because they would need to evidence the rights that they access through the settled status process.

I ask the Government to look positively on these new clauses, and at the very least to provide much more information and assurance about how they are going to approach this issue. Up to this point, there has been barely a flicker of recognition that this is something that needs to be addressed, but we are talking about tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of people being left in an appalling situation.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 11:15 am, 16th June 2020

I believe that it is appropriate to speak to new clause 25 as part of this grouping. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has already explained his commitment to and passion for new clauses 10 and 11. Our new clause 25 is not dissimilar to new clause 9. New clause 25 is tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, who is the shadow Home Secretary, and myself and my hon. Friends.

New clause 25 focuses on the need to put to bed some of the anxieties of those who will not have had their status confirmed by the time the transition period ends at the end of this year. When free movement ends, eligible EEA and Swiss nationals will still have until the end of the grace period to apply for status through the EU settlement scheme, which does not close until the end June 2021. With this in mind, all the conversations we have had with those European citizens who have either applied or are planning on applying to the settlement scheme have centred on what their status will be between the end of free movement and their status being granted, which could happen up until the end of June 2021 and, in some cases, beyond that.

The new clause asks the Government to put together a report on the status and rights of people during that window and to lay it before both Houses for consideration. We are calling on the Government to recognise the genuine sense of vulnerability felt by people who may fall into that category and to provide some assurance, in a report to Parliament, guaranteeing that those people, who are eligible, will have a lawful status and not be disadvantaged during those six months.

I asked Luke Piper, immigration lawyer and head of policy at the3million, about this issue in last week’s evidence session. It is a top priority for him and his group. He told the Committee:

“The Bill brings freedom of movement to an end at the end of this year, but it is not clear what legal status people will have between the end of the transition period, which is at the end of the year, and the end of June—the end of the grace period. There has been no clarity about, or understanding of, what legal rights people will have. We have simply been told that certain checks, such as on the right to work, will not be undertaken, but it is not clear to us or our members how people will be distinguished, both in practice and in law.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 61, Q125.]

EU citizens in the UK have already endured a lot of uncertainty about their futures and are now also facing insecurity on their lawful status. The suggestion that employers or landlords should not be checking to confirm their personal status during this grace period seems to be an approach fraught with potential problems. I am keen to hear what engagement Ministers have with employers and landlords on this issue, and how any suspension of the hostile environment will be managed. Last December, the3million commissioned a survey on EU citizens’ experience of the settlement scheme. It was the largest survey of its kind and indicated that they are already facing barriers, with 10.9% of respondents saying they have already been asked for proof of settled status, even though it is not yet a requirement.

Although this new clause focuses on the rights of those who apply after the transition ends and who get their status before the EUSS deadline, there will presumably then be a group of particularly vulnerable people who apply before the deadline ends but who do not get their status until after the end of June 2021. What happens, for example, if they apply on 20 June 2021, which is before the deadline, but do not get confirmation of their status until 20 July, which is after the end the transition period and the closure of the EUSS? What are the rights and status of that cohort of people?

Although the numbers coming through are good, we know that lots of people are still yet to apply. As we have heard, we will never know exactly how many people are in that category. We will never know whether there is going to be a surge towards the end of the scheme, which will make this a bigger problem than many of us would like. When asked about the numbers and types of people who will struggle to apply on time, Luke Piper said:

“Much as with the number of people due to apply for the scheme, we do not know. We have no idea of the exact number of EU citizens who need to apply under the EU settlement scheme, so we will not have an understanding of the number of people who miss the deadline.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 62, Q126.]

Coronavirus has resulted in dedicated Home Office phone lines being closed, an inability to receive hard copies of documentation and specialist support services being stopped, impacting on the progress being made. The BMA has said that some doctors working tirelessly on the frontline may be in that cohort of people who have to leave things until next year, simply because they will be working flat out for the foreseeable future. After the transition period comes to an end, thousands of people might not have confirmation of their status.

Recent research by the3million on young Europeans living in London made some concerning findings. The focus group was the first time that some participants had heard about the EU settlement scheme, and a majority had not applied to it, despite being viewed as an easy to reach group because of their education and digital literacy. The new clause’s proposed report on that group’s rights between the end of the transition period and the EU exit deadline would be of great assistance in clarifying the status and rights of those harder-to-reach groups. It would also assist in getting them to submit their applications towards the end of the scheme.

It is important to note that, after the deadline, the EU settlement scheme will not close in practice, because people with pre-settled status will need to apply for settled status, and it will also be used by people will be joining family members in the UK after the deadline. Moreover, we will still be processing those applications that arrive on time but that will have to wait until the other side of the deadline for a decision to be issued.

Inevitably, the problem is the hostile environment and the long, dark shadow of the Windrush scandal. The fear brought about by the absence of a clear framework of rights and migration status for EEA and Swiss nationals between September 2020 and June 2021 is all too real. We therefore ask the Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the UK during the grace period. EU citizens who have contributed and given so much to our society and country deserve to have security and confidence in their status.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I very much sympathise with what the hon. Member for Halifax has just said. There is real concern that EEA nationals who have been working here, contributing not least to our health service, may find themselves missing the deadline. However, I do not agree that the way to address that is through new clause 10, as I made clear to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. Some like myself would always wait until the deadline before submitting an essay or article. By extending the period by six months, we might well just encourage people to put off the chore—as they see it—of applying.

I ask the Minister to reassure us that, as we approach the deadline, the Government will engage in a communications exercise and advertising campaign, particularly in some of the main EU languages, so that people are aware of the deadline and can submit their applications in good time for them to be processed.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

That is an important point, in particular in relation to those communities, such as the Roma community, that have been hard to reach with information about the scheme. The Government have made some funding available for community organisations to reach such communities, but it would be extremely welcome to follow the suggestion that a particular push be made to communicate with those more remote communities as the deadline approaches

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Indeed, while many EU migrants have made a real effort to integrate and to speak English in their homes, encouraging their children to speak English, others have not assimilated as well and are still speaking their native language, as is their right. It is important that we communicate in those languages.

Perhaps we should also look at how we communicate through schools, because the children of some families who have come from the EU speak very good English, although their parents struggle with it. The children’s secondary schools may be another good way to get through to such families. I hope that the Minister will pick up that point and reassure us that the Government will be making the effort to communicate with the general population, to ensure that we can help our work mates and so on.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.