A legal bid to extend the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) has been blocked by the high court. Judges dismissed claims made by campaigners that EU residents living in the UK who fail to apply to remain in the country before the 30 June deadline could face ‘devastating consequences’, similar to those suffered by the Windrush generation.
Triggered by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the legal bid urged the Home Office to extend the EUSS deadline to ensure that those who miss the cut-off do not become undocumented and liable to detention and deportation.
Paul Bowen, QC for the JCWI, told the high court: “On 1 July 2021 anyone who has yet to apply, or apply successfully, will be left without UK immigration status and exposed to the consequences of the hostile environment.
“This mean they will be at risk of losing their jobs, homes, access to benefits, and healthcare, driving licences, detention, criminalisation and removal – a second Windrush, but on a much bigger scale,” Mr Bowen added.
Home Secretary failure
Lawyers for the JCWI told the court, during a permission hearing, that Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had ‘failed to collect enough data’ to ensure that adequate action was being taken to encourage vulnerable people to apply prior to the deadline.
Bowen said: “In the absence of that data she [Patel] is pressing a policy outcome which is highly likely to have severe discriminatory consequences: she is driving blind towards the cliff-edge.”
It’s expected that some groups will be less likely to apply for the EUSS by the June deadline – especially elderly EU residents, children, physically or mentally disabled individuals, domestic abuse victims or Roma people, the court was told.
However, in rejecting the JCWI’s request for a judicial review, Justice Nathalie Lieven said: “It’s the nature of application schemes to have a deadline.” She pointed out that the Home Office has said that there will be a grace period for people who could prove that they had reasonable grounds for making a late application.
However, the Home Office has not yet disclosed how long the grace period will be and how it will be implemented.
Millions of EUSS applications made
As of December 2020, around 4.9 million EUSS applications had been made, 4.6 million of which have been approved. 54% were granted UK permanent status, while a further 43% were given temporary pre-settled status.
The JCWI did acknowledge that those who had applied have done so with very little difficulty, but claimed that some groups would find the application process ‘more challenging’ and would likely see their applications refused.
The migrant charity recognised that the Home Office had put measures in place to avoid discriminatory consequences of the policy. However, the JCWI once again referred to the fact that without the right data, it would be difficult for the Home Office to determine how many people are struggling to apply.
The JCWI said: “There’s no way of knowing whether Home Office measures are adequate.”
Home Office says some groups will struggle
The Home Office did agree with the JCWI’s assessment, saying that certain groups will find it more difficult, particularly women in abusive relationships, children and those who lacked the physical or mental capacity to apply.
However, QC for the Home Office, David Blundell, said: “Steps have been taken to encourage these groups to apply.”
Chief executive of the JCWI, Satbir Singh, said: “We’re deeply disappointed by the high court’s decision. The fact remains that in June, tens of thousands of EU citizens are at risk of falling through the gaps and becoming undocumented. They’ll be subject to the same hostile environment that has already ruined the lives of many, such as the Windrush generation.”
“Boris Johnson and Priti Patel promised that all EU citizens would get an automatic right to stay in the UK. Not only have they broken that promise, but they have also created a scheme which discriminates against older people, disabled people, looked-after children and many others. The government must do the right thing and lift the June deadline,” Singh added.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “There have been 4.6 million grants of status under the EU Settlement Scheme already, securing people’s rights in UK law. The scheme is simple and straightforward, with a wide range of support available online, over the phone and in person for those who have questions or need help applying.”
“We continue to work closely with employers, local authorities and charities to raise awareness of the scheme and we continue to encourage EU citizens to apply,” the spokesperson added.
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