As you may know, EU citizens currently living and working in the UK have to apply for “settled status” to retain the same rights as British citizens post-Brexit. The process of applying for settled status has been heavily criticised. Many of society’s most vulnerable have struggled to navigate the application process, while reports have circulated of third parties charging application fees even though the government scrapped the initial £65 fee.
As an EU citizen, even if you make it through the quagmire of the application process and are granted settled status, then you have to contend with the fact that the government does not give you physical proof of your new status. No card, document or even letter — only online verification through the digital database.
This is very worrying to someone like me. I am Dutch-Somali and have lived in the UK since I was 10. My mother fled the Somali civil war to the Netherlands in the late 1990s. She was the oldest in her family and so was forced to work from the age of 11, meaning that she never had a formal education. Tasks such as reading and writing are very difficult for her, so I helped her with her settled status application.
Now that she has been granted settled status, she asks me repeatedly when physical proof of her settled status will arrive. Although no EU citizen has physical proof, my mother feels singled out and anxious.
We are both literally and metaphorically unsettled; we are receiving mixed messages from a government that is not listening to, much less addressing, our concerns. I work with the campaign organisation, the3million. Our message to the prime minister is that he needs to gain the aforementioned trust of EU citizens and this all starts with providing physical proof of our status. The results of a recent the3million survey are worrying: a staggering 89 per cent of the 3,171 respondents say they aren’t happy with digital-only settled status, and fear being discriminated against at work; indeed, 11 per cent said they were already being asked for proof of settled status by landlords, banks and councils, even though it is not legally required until 2021.
I am worried about my future in the UK. I can’t help but think that our lack of physical proof of settled status is a precursor for something more sinister. The fact that I won’t so easily be able to prove my immigration status also makes me worry about other people’s perceptions of me. Will I no longer be a friendly colleague or neighbour, but rather a European “other”, whose status in the UK is in doubt?
Recently, the Home Office released a statement that began, “the EU Settlement Scheme is working”. Working for whom, exactly? On Wednesday, the Residential Landlords Association came out in support of a settled status card for EU citizens, warning that EU citizens risked discrimination without one. It is not an unreasonable ask. If the government is serious about protecting the rights of EU citizens, about making us feel welcome, it must give us physical proof.