The Tories are using Brexit as an excuse to strengthen Britain’s vicious immigration system. They are forcing European Union (EU) migrants to register in order to stay after Britain leaves the EU.
It’s a disgraceful attack on nearly three million people who have made their lives in Britain—many for decades.
Attacks on migrants encourage racism and help to divide ordinary people—so we have an interest in resisting them.
But what will Brexit actually mean for migrants?
What do EU migrants have to do to stay in Britain?
Migrants have to apply to the “EU Settlement Scheme” if they want to stay in Britain after the “transition period” following Brexit.
Britain is officially set to leave the EU on 29 March this year, and the transition period would end on 30 June 2021.
Successful applicants to the scheme will keep the right to work in Britain, use the NHS and education services and access some benefits and pensions.
And they will be able to travel in and out of Britain—and stay out for up to five years.
People will have to declare any criminal convictions as part of the process. Confusion—and fear of being turned down—will put some people off applying altogether.
This could create a layer of vulnerable unregistered migrants.
What are the different statuses?
Only EU migrants who have lived in Britain for a “continuous five year period” can apply for “settled status”.
People who have been here for less than five years have to apply for “pre-settled status”.
If successful, they can then apply for “settled status” once they have lived in Britain for a “continuous five year period”.
People under 21 can apply for the same immigration status as their parents—in which case they will be forced to prove their relationship with their parents.
It isn’t always clear which status people are eligible for.
The Roma Support Group said that government department records have wrongly stated that some applicants are only entitled to apply for “pre-settled status”.
These kind of problems could leave some migrants without official legal status after the transition period ends.
Does it make a difference if migrants have “settled” or “pre-settled” status?
There are not many differences between “settled status” and “pre-settled status”.
But there are some—and they are designed to make it difficult for migrants to build a life in Britain.
So children born to people with “settled status” will automatically be eligible to become British subjects. Children born to people with “pre-settled status” will have to apply for British citizenship independently.
Or, if one of their parents is British, they will have to go through a complicated process to prove they have citizenship by descent.
Similarly, if people have lived in Britain for five years their family members can come here on a family visa. Family members of those with “pre-settled status” do not have the same rights.
What about people who came to Britain before their home countries joined the EU And what about Irish nationals?
People who were granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain before their home countries joined the EU don’t have to apply to the settlement scheme.
They have the right to permanent residency already.
Yet there’s still uncertainty.
When one migrant with indefinite leave to remain contacted the EU Settlement hotline last week they were advised to apply for “settled status” anyway.
People with indefinite leave to remain will have a stamp in their passport. But they won’t necessarily keep old passports—and so don’t necessarily have the proof.
And if people came here as children, the proof is often only written into one of their parents’ passports.
Indefinite leave to remain status should be attached to people’s passport number. But the migrant calling the hotline was told that the possibility of “an IT glitch or whatever” meant it was better to apply for “settled status”.
Irish nationals are covered by the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland.
This agreement means people can move between Britain and Ireland with minimal controls.
Does the scrapping of the £65 fee for people who want to apply for “settled status” show a shift in Tory policy?
Home secretary Sajid Javid claimed the scrapping of the fee showed that “we want EU citizens to stay—deal or no deal”.
Many people rightly saw the fee as an insult, and the retreat over it shows the Tories’ weakness. But a raft of nasty policies remain.
The settlement scheme is wrapped up in xenophobia. People will have to jump through hoops to keep the rights they already have.
The Home Office can ask for “supporting documents”, alongside ID, to prove how long someone has lived in Britain.
But some people won’t have been given documents such as pay slips and bank statements—or won’t have kept them.
Dealing with this bureaucracy will be harder for people who are more vulnerable or who don’t have access to computers.
Racism means western European migrants who are white will be treated differently than Roma people from Romania or Slovakia for instance.
The fight is still on to defend migrants’ rights.
What should socialists argue?
The EU Settlement Scheme is not part of the Tories’ Brexit deal, officially known as the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
It’s an independent policy of the British government.
This means the government can keep it or change it—whether there’s a deal with the EU or not.
Anti-racists should argue for the EU Settlement Scheme to be scrapped.
EU migrants should have the right to remain in Britain without having to pass through the state’s immigration rules.
And the fight to defend the three million should be part of a bigger fight to defend and extend freedom of movement for all migrants.