According to a report published by The Guardian, EU citizens are being offered financial incentives to leave the UK. The report claims that EU nationals are being added to a voluntary returns scheme with the Home Office offering to cover the cost of flights and hand out £2,000 for resettlement.
The news comes with just over three months to the deadline for EU citizens to apply for UK settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Since 1 January, EU citizens have quietly been added to the voluntary returns scheme.
However, the government has been accused of contradicting itself with the scheme. Groups supporting vulnerable EU citizens in the UK claim that the offer of money to return home contradicts government comments stating that it was ‘doing everything it could’ to encourage people to register for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
Registration deadline fast approaching
The registration deadline for the EUSS is 30 June. Benjamin Morgan, who runs the EU homeless rights project at the Public Interest Law Centre, said: “It is clear from our casework that some of the most vulnerable EU citizens are yet to resolve their status. Barriers to application and delays in Home Office decision-making remain significant factors.”
“This mixed messaging around settled status on the one hand and voluntary returns on the other, seriously undermines the government’s claim that the rights of vulnerable Europeans will be protected after Brexit,” Mr Morgan told The Guardian.
A spokesperson for the Home Office defended the voluntary returns scheme, saying: “Some people may choose not to obtain status under EUSS and may not wish to remain in the UK after the deadline.”
“That is why we have written to stakeholders to inform them that EEA nationals who wish to leave the UK may now be eligible for support to help them do so under the voluntary returns scheme,” the spokesperson added.
Thousands risk losing UK immigration status
The Guardian’s report comes just days after the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) warned that tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of EU citizens risk losing their legal right to remain in the UK.
In particular, the JCWI expressed concern over the immigration status of EU care workers and workers in industries with poor conditions, low pay and insecure contracts – including construction and agriculture, among others. The JCWI fears that many EU citizens will slip through the cracks of the EUSS scheme.
Legal policy director at the JCWI, Chai Patel, said: “Our research scares me because the people we talked to were far less vulnerable than other groups hidden in exploitative working conditions, who no one has been able to reach to ask questions.”
“Despite warnings from us and many other experts, the Home Office is burying its head in the sand about this just like they did with Windrush and making excuses instead of finding solutions,” Patel added.
The JCWI is not the only organisation to raise concerns about some EU citizens slipping through the cracks. The Migration Observatory, based at Oxford University, also fears that many EU citizens will miss the 30 June EUSS registration deadline.
However, the future borders and UK immigration minister, Kevin Foster, dismissed the fears saying that an ‘incredibly misleading picture has been painted of the EUSS scheme. Nearly five million people have applied highlighting the success of the scheme.’
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