There are over 900,000 EU national children in the UK who will soon be required to prove that they have the right to remain in the UK after Brexit to avoid becoming ‘undocumented’ after the end of the Brexit transition period (which will be 30 June 2021 or 31 December 2020 depending on whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or not). The Home Office estimates that between 10 and 20% of all applicants will be vulnerable. The future of 5,000 EU children who are currently in local authority care and separated from their families, is of particular concern.
Although the Government has repeatedly asserted that the application process will be ‘straightforward and streamlined’, the new EU settlement scheme (which requires proof of nationality and residence) has been designed more with workers in mind who can demonstrate eligibility through tax records. Many children’s cases are more complex, especially if they live separately from their parents.
During a recent pilot of the scheme aimed at vulnerable individuals, CCLC found that in a fifth of cases the child did not have the necessary documentation and more than half of cases required detailed advice on immigration and nationality law that could only be provided by qualified legal professionals. CCLC is particularly concerned that local authorities are not identifying children in their care who need to regularise their status, both EU nationals and their non-EU national family members, and lack the specialist knowledge required to help them when they do.
Tens of thousands of EU national children may already be eligible for British citizenship but without funded legal advice will not know how to acquire it. A lack of knowledge is not the only barrier for children trying to remain in the UK. Many children are unable to apply for citizenship due to exorbitant application fees – the fee to apply for a child to register as a British citizen is £1,012 – and the lack of government-funded legal advice even where a case is complex. This means they are prevented from vital protections that citizenship affords them such as freedom from immigration control, access to student finance and loans, employment, health services, other vital benefits and opportunities to thrive as they reach adulthood.
Today’s report calls for the following measures to be taken to ensure that vulnerable children receive the support they need to achieve permanent status:
- Local authorities should take positive steps to identify European national children in their care and assist them to access identity documents, legal advice and representation.
- The Government should not require EU national children who are eligible to register as British citizens to pay a fee to do so;
- Legal aid should be made available for all EU national children and young people’s cases
Kamena Dorling, Group Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Coram, said:
If just 15% of the current population of EU national children fail to ‘regularise’ their status before the cut-off point, 100,000 children would be added to the UK’s undocumented child population overnight, nearly doubling it.
This ‘second Windrush’ generation of children and young people will be unable to work, unable to open a bank account or drive a car and effectively barred from college, university and secondary healthcare. It is vital that EU national children are able to easily regularise their status and are assisted to secure the most stable form of status they can, allowing them to build their futures in the UK.