There are over half a million European national children living in the UK, 38% of whom were born here. Non-EU children currently struggle to regularise their immigration status in a system which is complex, expensive and for which there is no free legal advice.
For the past year, Coram Children’s Legal Centre has been calling for a new system for EU nationals that is child-friendly and allows children to stay here permanently, if they wish to. In practice, this means a system which grants indefinite leave to remain to all European nationals in the UK with permanent residence or who are able to show five years’ continuous residence, including all EEA family members and those with derivative rights. We have fought for European nationals to have a right of appeal in domestic courts, access legal advice and access to an independent adjudication mechanism. We have also highlighted, our concerns around children in care who may struggle to engage with a new settlement scheme.
We are pleased that the government has listened to our concerns and we welcome the publication of the settlement scheme Statement of Intent (SoI) and Immigration Rules (Appendix EU). However, we believe that there are still significant obstacles that many children and families will need to overcome in order to gain status. In particular, children, parents and step-parents who are in the UK because of EU-law rights but who are not citizens of a European country themselves risk being left with a precarious status through the settlement scheme. There is ongoing uncertainty about Zambrano carers and other groups whose right to remain derives from EU law who have not been provided for in the new Appendix EU.
A lack of legal advice and assistance is likely to exacerbate the problems these vulnerable families are likely to experience, and we believe the Home Office must make sure that community groups and local authorities are adequately equipped and funded, to support those who need to make an application under the new scheme. The Home Office and the Office of the Immigration Services Commission (OISC) must be clear about the regulation of this work and what assistance civil society organisations can give.
It is also vital that any failure to agree a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU does not result in a backtracking on, or dilution of, citizens’ rights in the UK. The government should guarantee that they will honour the proposed EU settlement scheme in the event of a ‘no deal’.