On the3million meeting with Caroline Nokes, the UK Immigration Minister, and senior civil servants of the Home Office in the House of Commons.
On Tuesday, the3million was back in Westminster for a very special meeting with Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister. We requested this meeting at the time of her appointment, not knowing she would be at the heart of the Windrush political storm when we meet her.
She was very professional and came across as competent, and we welcomed her confirmation that ‘exercising treaty rights’ wouldn’t be tested in relation to settled status applications, one of our key campaigning issues since 2016.
She also committed to replying in writing to the3million’s 128 questions:
This is essential as we all need clarity over settled status, what it will look like and what it will mean, but she failed to reduce our anxieties raised by the Windrush scandal.
We simply want lifelong protection for ourselves and our children but the Withdrawal Agreement will only give us 8 years of protection of our rights.
It’s also worth remembering the Home Office’s 10% error rate when processing Permanent Residence applications: how can we confident that errors won’t affect our status in the short and long term?
We have published a checklist, which was commented as correct by the Home Office and we recommend you start gathering your paperwork now, in case it is needed when you apply for ‘settled status’.
Please click on the image below to access the checklist.
Whereas the Windrush scandal has increased our anxiety regarding the Home Office’s ability to deal with 3.6 million settled status (720,000 of them from children), the meeting with the minister was a step in the right direction for all EU/EEA citizens living in the UK and their dependants.
Please read our report of the meeting below and do become a member of the3million to support our work. Our job won’t be done until everyone is documented and protected from the hostile environment, so they can get on with their lives.
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The meeting with Caroline Nokes.
On Tuesday, the3million met Caroline Nokes MP, the immigration minister, as well as senior civil servants from the Home Office in the House of Commons.
During a frank exchange, the minister confirmed that the Home Office would not test EU citizens retrospectively for having exercised treaty rights when they apply for settled status, and committed to making details available about the scheme by replying in writing to all 128 questions the3million published last week.
However, the minister remained firm on the concept of hostile environment by refusing to guarantee that undocumented EU citizens will not be treated like the Windrush generation, particularly after the end of the grace period (After June 2021).
We drew some positives from the meeting:
She made a big point about being a simple procedure based on residency "This is not about exercising treaty rights". However, she failed to mention that the application process will also be based on criminality, security and absence checks.
Many will feel reassured that the criteria that failed them during the Permanent Residence process will not apply, such as Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI), 'genuine and effective work', and 'sufficient resources'.
Still, we have strong concerns about evidencing continuous residence over five years for those who are not on PAYE scheme (i.g. zero hours contracts and the self-employed) or those who are not IT literate or have a low level of English.
While the development of a digital platform for the settled status application will satisfy the majority, we know it won't suitable for a large number of EU citizens for various reasons (Take 20% of the population, and you get a number of 720,000 people).
We also feel we made a bit of headway on the crucial topic of offering a local, face-to-face application service, including support and advice from caseworkers for those who cannot, or do not want to make digital application.
Her original position was a complete refusal to engage with the topic, but she seemed to listen to our arguments and she acknowledged the benefit to the 'at-risk EU citizens' of a local service. She said she would 'take it home' to reflect on it.
Last but not least, she committed to replying to our 128 questions about settled status in writing, which is a very positive announcement, but it could take some time; probably not before June.
She didn't want to be drawn into any comparison between the Windrush generation and EU citizens.
She said it was a distinct issue as the Windrush generation came to this country over 50 years ago, with most records not available any longer, whereas EU citizens could rely on evidencing their presence through their digital footprint, and therefore, she refused to extend the guarantees given to the Windrush generation to EU citizens.
Which means the hostile environment is here to stay, and undocumented EU citizens will remain at risk of being affected by the hostile environment, especially after the grace period (ending 30 June 2021).
We consider it to be a missed opportunity, as it fails to reduce our anxieties, increased by the Windrush scandal.
We also didn't get a clear timetable about the commitments made above, which would have been helpful.
Finally, the issue of EU citizens having unrestricted access to their data held by the Home Office was not discussed as it is the subject of potential litigation (by the3million and the Open Rights Group).
Overall, we were delighted that the3million had a proper meeting with the minister since the referendum.
Caroline Nokes appeared confident and well briefed, and she was aware of the issues we raised. This was a very constructive meeting, which we feel is helping the Home Office understand the perspective of EU citizens and it will increase the level of collaboration between civil society (us) and the British Government.
However, our concerns remain and we will continue to exercise vigilance.
To be continued...🔷
PS: - Please become a member of the3million today. - While the campaign intensifies, we must continue to fight for our rights, alongside our friends in British in Europe. If you can donate, please continue to do so so that our team of full time volunteers can be supported to continue this crucial work.
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(This piece was first published on the3million newsletter.)