The regressive immigration hoop jump
â€˜Settled status' proposals for EU nationals are a step back for Europe, says Jennifer Maxwell-Harris
Immigration lawyers may well be somewhat baffled by the proposals of Theresa May’s government to require EU nationals to obtain ‘settled status’ and join a special ID register.
Currently those nationals of the countries which form the European Economic Area plus Switzerland (a larger group of countries which includes the EU countries) can, on achieving five years’ residence in the UK, apply for evidence of their right to reside permanently in the UK, in the form of a permanent residence document.
For EU nationals exercising treaty rights such evidence is not necessary unless the individual wants to apply for British citizenship or to bring a family member to the UK.
According to press reports, since the Brexit decision around 150,000 EU nationals currently living in the UK have applied for a permanent residence to try to preserve their right to remain. The government is proposing that these applicants will now have to reapply for the new ‘settled status’ category.
This seems to be creating an unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy and cost, not only to the state and taxpayer, but also for the individuals concerned. There is no logical reason why these applicants cannot simply have their current applications processed rather than being required to reapply for ‘settled status’.
The new ‘settled status’ requirements appear similar to those for the current settlement visas for non-EEA nationals. EU workers form a significant and vital part of the workforce, particularly (but not exclusively) young workers in London and other UK cities in sectors such as retail and hospitality.
The ‘settled status’ requirements carry some significant deterrents to workers who are needed by the UK economy, not least the requirement for a minimum savings or income threshold of £18,600 for a partner or spouse to come to the UK, which is unrealistic in those sectors which pay at or close to national minimum wage levels.
For those EEA nationals who do not have five years’ continuous residence, the proposals are that they be granted some form of temporary status, but what this would entail is unclear.
Proposals for a special ID register also create an unnecessary administrative burden and smack of disproportionate state control. There is a significant civil liberties issue here and there may well be challenges under the Human Rights Act or, if that is repealed, under the European Convention on Human Rights to which the UK is, for the time being at least, a signatory.
If the government insists on all Europeans acquiring visa status in the UK, then there is no good reason why the current residence document programme cannot simply become a requirement for all EEA nationals.
For the Europe that has made such huge strides since the Second World War, with the reunification of Germany, a mobile workforce, and the freedom to trade across borders, the idea that our European colleagues will be forced to jump through hoops to be working at the desk next to us seems both extraordinary and regressive.
Jennifer Maxwell-Harris is a partner at Joelson