During the current pandemic, we have seen how EU citizens who are frontline workers in the UK, including many nurses and doctors in the NHS, have done their part to help the country through the harshest of challenges. Their contribution will be equally important as life gets back to some degree of normality.
While Scotland has been offering great assistance, at all levels, to those who needed this the most, for Europeans everywhere in the UK some things have changed. As an unavoidable consequence of the UK no longer being part of the EU, freedom of movement ended on 31 December 2020. The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was designed precisely to address this and provide a way for EU nationals to remain in the UK - continuing to live, work and access all of the benefits that they previously enjoyed pre-Brexit.
The deadline for application to this scheme, 30 June, is almost upon us. This is why I am taking this opportunity to say to all EU citizens and their family members, who have been living in the UK since before 31 December 2020, and who want to continue to live, work and study in the UK – that they need to apply now to the EU Settlement Scheme – before it is too late.
Although the latest figures for applications are encouraging (by the end of May 2021 nearly 5.3 million statuses have been granted under the EU Settlement Scheme), it is our firm belief that there may be many more citizens out there who still need to apply.
Therefore, even if you are not an EU national yourself, please check with your family members, friends and people in your community, whether they need to apply to the scheme – and if they do but have not already, please urge them to submit an application as soon as they possibly can.
Remember, age doesn’t matter: parents need to apply on behalf of their children – even for babies. Equally, even EU citizens who have been in the country for several decades need to apply also. Young or old, if you are an EU national and have been living in the UK since before 31 December 2020 – this deadline applies to you.We cannot stress enough the importance of applying to the scheme. There is still enough time – there are still two weeks to go. The consequences of not applying can be serious. In principle, people who do not apply at all will lose their rights to work, study, rent a home, access health care and social services or open a bank account. Those who apply late will temporarily lose these rights - until such time as their status is granted.
To assist EU citizens, the EU Delegation to the UK is offering free information sessions to groups of citizens and free legal advice surgeries for individuals with vulnerabilities or complex backgrounds. We run these services with the help of contracted immigration lawyers who can be contacted by local information providers – including NGOs, local authorities and practically by any community group – that can book legal advice via the website www.eurights.uk. We urge everybody to take advantage of this free service and assist EU citizens and their family members in these critical times.
While excellent outreach work has been done so far, by the UK authorities, the Delegation of the European Union in the UK together with the EU embassies and citizens’ support organisations – including those in Scotland – we want to ensure the message reaches each and every one of the EU citizens across UK. In particular, we are hoping to reach those citizens who may need help with their application: the most vulnerable and those with complex backgrounds. Eligible citizens over 65 years, cared for citizens in assisted living or care homes, children in care, citizens who do not speak English or those who lack digital skills are particularly at risk of missing the deadline. For many, the only way to hear about this scheme is by word of mouth. So please – spread the word. Check with your friends and family. Remind them – they have less than 2 weeks to apply.
The EU Delegation to the UK, based in London, has several leaflets available in all EU languages on what citizens need to know: these include general information, as well as specific information for senior citizens, parents and children, non-EU family members and joining family members.
I am proud of the contribution EU citizens have made and will continue to make to the United Kingdom - the country they call home. We know that Scotland is here for Europeans and we would like Europeans to be there for Scotland. To be able to be a part in this future, they need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme – today.
João Vale de Almeida is the EU’s Ambassador to the UK