With more than 900,000 eligible EEA citizen children thought to have been living in the UK in 2017, only 412,820 children had been granted status under settlement scheme by 31 March 2020. Of these, there are an estimated 9000 children and young people in the care system who were eligible, but UK local authorities – with a duty of care to these vulnerable children – have secured status for fewer than 500 according to one estimate.
Many of these children will be British citizens, either automatically by birth or through registration. However, as previously outlined by Coram, many parents simply do not know whether or not their child is a British citizen or can apply to register as one, in large part due to the complexity of UK nationality law, which has changed significantly several times since the 1990s.
And while the Government is focusing on the high numbers of applications to the settlement scheme overall, there is a real risk that it is not recognising the particular gap when it comes to children’s applications, says the report. If children do not get status, on 1 July next year they will become undocumented, living in the UK unlawfully and subject to hostile environment policies which restrict access to homes, healthcare, education, work, benefits, bank accounts and driving licences. They would be liable to be removed from the UK, even if this is where they grew up.
It makes a number of key recommendations for the Home Office, local authorities and wider government, including:
· Scrapping the prohibitively expensive £1012 citizenship fee currently charged to children, which prevents many children from accessing their rights.
· Many children and young people in the care system who need to apply have yet to even be identified. The government must work with local authorities and civil society to make and resource a comprehensive plan to find and support every single child and young person as a matter of urgency.
· In fifteen months just over 400,000 children have applied to the EU settlement scheme, but a great many complex cases remain. The remaining children need more time: the deadline to the settlement scheme must be extended.
· If they do not apply in time, children and young people eligible under the EU settlement scheme must not be brought under existing long and expensive routes in the immigration system that are currently failing other children and young people, once the deadline has expired.
The report also makes recommendations for changes to the scheme that would help the children, young people and families who are currently struggling. This includes care leavers, children and young adults in custody, children and other family members from outside the EEA, and children in single-parent families.
Since the end of 2018 CCLC has helped hundreds of children, young people and families with complex cases to access the EU settlement scheme, and today’s report looks at the stories of some of those children and young people.
Marianne Lagrue, Policy Manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said: “Beneath the headline number of applications made so far to the EU settlement scheme, we are concerned that there might be a gap when it comes to children’s applications. Based on our work helping hundreds of children, young people and families to apply, we know that many struggle with different aspects of the scheme, and there is confusion about which children are, or could become, British citizens.
“We are particularly concerned that there are thousands of children and young people in the care of the state who still need to apply. This government must act now to resolve the immigration status of the children in its own care. If they cannot, this has worrying implications for whether the system can reach every eligible child and young person with just one year to go. The government needs a comprehensive plan and should extend the deadline.”
Dr Carol Homden CBE, CEO of Coram, said: “Today’s report highlights where children, particularly those in care, are at risk of falling through the gaps, and one child left in legal limbo is simply one too many.
“Through our work at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, we will continue to champion the rights of all children throughout the transition period and beyond. It has never been more important that every child who grew up here is able to face their future with safety and security.”