Alena Ivanova says we must give full rights to the many EU citizens we rely on as frontline workers

As the world is desperately trying to navigate the biggest public health crisis since the early 20th century influenza outbreaks, it may seem trivial to some to focus on campaigning for EU nationals’ rights. Yet, while the country has discovered a new appreciation of key workers – NHS staff, carers, drivers, retail workers – many of those same people we clap for every Thursday still face an uncertain future in post-Brexit Britain.

Despite promises made to EU nationals throughout the EU referendum campaign and after, our rights and freedoms are nowhere near guaranteed. In fact, the Tory Government has so far opposed introducing a very simple measure that could make their previous pledges come true: the Right to Stay.

‘Settled status’ is the new immigration status designed for EU nationals who wish to continue living in the UK after Brexit. Instead of a guarantee, however, it is a status you have to apply for. It also comes in two shapes: Settled status for those who have lived in the UK for at least five years and can prove it, and the lesser and less secure Pre-Settled status for the rest. The ability to prove continuous residence is a key issue here. We know that hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable EU migrants will struggle to meet the criteria. Those include children in care, elderly people, members of the GRT communities, domestic violence victims, people in insecure housing, and carers.

To make matters worse, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has seen vital advice services suspended, as well as the work of charities and community groups that was previously focused on assisting some of those most vulnerable. Many of the most precariously employed will be losing their jobs as a result of this crisis, making their lives even more of a struggle and making it even more difficult to demonstrate residence.

In practice, after June 2021 EU citizens without Settled or Pre-Settled status will become unlawful in the UK. Many will have just played a vital role in keeping the country running and staffing the NHS. Others will have cared for the elderly, or delivered our groceries and takeaways. Because of the Covid crisis and potential delays in the Brexit process, people who require face-to-face support and advice with their Settled Status application will not have been able to access it. The most vulnerable communities will not have been assisted or even reached.

This Tory administration has shown too little interest in the fates of migrants for us to take their word at face value without legislative guarantees. Besides, even if deportations per se are not the outcome for those migrants who miss out, they will still be subjected to all the cruelties of the hostile environment: denied jobs, denied housing, denied welfare support and, crucially, healthcare.

The Right to Stay campaign is calling for the rights of EU nationals to be guaranteed in primary legislation. Right to Stay would mean that everyone who resides in the UK by the cut-off Brexit point is legally entitled to Settled Status automatically and receives a physical proof of their new immigration status via a registration system. More than that, however, we must continue our fight for levelling up the rights for all migrants.

The current pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities at the heart of the British economy and services – it is predominantly migrants and BAME people who are bearing the brunt not only of the illness, but also of the measures to tackle it. Beyond everyone’s right to stay, we should be demanding equal rights to healthcare, housing and economic opportunities for all, and a global recovery plan post-Covid-19 that has social justice at its core.

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