Newcastle City Council is warning EU citizens, EEA and Swiss nationals and those who hold an EEA family permit not to wait until the last minute to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
The scheme, which was introduced as the UK left the European Union, can protect the rights of EU nationals and others who had the right to live and work in the UK as a result of our previous EU membership – as long as they apply before the deadline of 30 June 2021.
But with everyone from new babies to grandparents needing to apply individually the council is worried that hundreds of local residents could be left without any rights, and possibly even facing deportation if the system becomes overwhelmed.
One resident who has already been through the process is Casey Pearcy who, after getting married, moved to Newcastle from Colorado in January 2018.
At the time Casey’s husband, who is an Irish national, could live in the UK due to its membership of the EU and because of rights set out in the Good Friday Agreement. As a US citizen married to an Irish national Casey applied for, and was granted, an EEA family permit which gave her the right to live and study in the UK until 2023.
The couple settled in Newcastle and soon threw themselves into life in the city. As well as working in a local primary school Casey became a Cats Protection home foster volunteer and started playing for the Newcastle Roller Derby roller skating team where she is now also a Junior Team coach.
Then last year, with the end of the Brexit transition period looming, Casey checked what this would mean for her. And it’s a good job she did as she may have found herself deemed to be an illegal immigrant on 1 July because changes to immigration law meant EEA family permits would no longer be valid.
In August last year Casey went online to start the EUSS application process which she says “was pretty easy compared to when I applied for the EEA family permit but that was probably because I had been through that process and already had a biometric card.”
The online application took Casey about 20 minutes to complete. She uploaded her documents using a mobile phone app and provided proof of residency. Less than two weeks later Casey received confirmation that she had been awarded pre-settled status and that she will be able to apply for settled status once she has lived in the UK for five years.
Although Casey didn’t have any problems with the application process, she isn’t sure it will be quite so easy for someone who isn’t ‘IT savvy’ or whose first language isn’t English. She’s also concerned about the lack of government advice and support as one size fits all letter she received didn’t even tell her that she is required to inform her employer and landlord about her change of status in the standard.
After hearing that EU nationals are being paid to leave the country Casey said “I’m shocked that the Home Office is trying to incentivise EU nationals to leave the country. I love living in Newcastle and I wouldn’t leave if they paid me.
“I’m proud to be a hard-working professional and volunteer, I have strong friendships and lovely family here, and access to the NHS in the age of the novel coronavirus is priceless compared to my country of origin. Immigrants like myself also help shape the city’s cultural identity, so asking us to go is asking the city to homogenise, and that’s such a shame.”
Councillor Joyce McCarty, Deputy Leader of Newcastle Council said, “In Newcastle, we recognise the valuable contribution that EU, EEA and Switzerland citizens and their families make in our city. They enrich our culture as well as our community and are part of our society. We want to encourage them to stay, not pay them to leave.
“Our city would be substantially poorer without people who come from all over the world to work in our universities, public services and businesses. During the current pandemic, many of the services we have relied on so much such as the NHS, health and social care, supermarkets and even some food banks have only been able to function because people from other countries chose to make Newcastle their home.
“We are genuinely worried that some of those who have given so much to our communities could lose the right to remain in the UK if they don’t apply to the EUSS soon. If there is a delay in an application or something goes wrong during the process and the deadline arrives, they could face losing their homes and jobs and their right to remain in the UK.
“There is no need to worry about the cost. There is no charge for applying to the EUSS and free support is available in Newcastle if you need help with the process. You do not need to pay for an immigration lawyer. The government is only funding these services until the end of March so please don’t leave it until the last minute, get in touch today.”
If you live in Newcastle and need help with your EUSS application you can get free advice and support by calling Your Homes Newcastle on 0191 277 1190; The Children’s Society North East on 0191 349 9481; or Riverside Community Health Project on 0191 226 0754. Or if you need advice on legal issues related to your EUSS application call the North East Law Centre between 10am and 1pm every Friday on 0191 230 4777.