Brexit: Hundreds of EU citizens use Windrush scheme to stay in UK instead of ‘deeply flawed’ settlement system
Human rights campaigners warn lack of physical record endangers EU citizens’ rights
Human rights campaigners have warned that people are using the Windrush system because they are concerned over the lack of physical identification provided by the government’s main EU settlement scheme.
The Windrush scheme, which was set up following the wrongful detention and deportation of members of the Windrush generation, provides a physical ID card showing a person’s indefinite right to stay in the UK.
The EU settlement scheme offers a digital record of a person’s status, which the government has argued “cannot be lost”.
However, campaigners have said the settlement scheme is “deeply flawed” and risks producing another scandal after the UK leaves the EU.
In May, the Commons Home Affairs Committee suggested that technical issues had blighted the settled status scheme, with applicants struggling to navigate the online system.
“The EU settlement scheme is deeply flawed and even those who succeed in applying are left without physical documents, and will face severe discrimination under the government’s hostile environment,” Chai Patel, legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said.
“EU citizens want physical documentation, they know it’s essential, the government must commit to providing it.”
Axel Antoni, from “the3million” group campaigning for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, echoed that sentiment.
"After the Windrush scandal, many EU citizens realised that lacking physical proof of status was exactly what caused this scandal in the first place,” he said.
“The online-only status as implemented by the government scares many EU citizens who are not comfortable with using modern technology or simply do not have access to the internet.
“We therefore have been clear with the Home Office that there must be a physical document with an online back-up to protect EU citizens from discrimination in the hostile environment.”
“What we want is anybody who is in the UK now, or even enters the UK by the end of 2020, gets the same rights as a UK citizen. That’s our objective,” he told the BBC.
“Sometimes, the bureaucracy doesn’t work as well as we expect and we need to sort that out.”
During the 2016 EU referendum, the official Vote Leave campaign claimed EU citizens would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present” after Brexit.
A Home Office spokesperson encouraged EU citizens to use the main settlement scheme and insisted that the "vast majority of people are finding it easy or fairly easy to apply".
“The EU Settlement Scheme is the quickest and easiest way for EU citizens to protect their rights in UK law. Over a million people have been granted status so far,” they said.
“It gives them a secure digital status which, unlike a physical document, cannot be lost.
“EU citizens are our friends, families and neighbours, and we want them to stay. There is plenty of support available if people need help, and they have until at least December 2020 to apply.”