EU citizens living, working and studying in the UK have spoken of their fears for the future after the Home Office announced plans to end freedom of movement immediately after a no-deal Brexit.
Silvia González, 40, who moved to Wales from Spain in May 2015 after falling in love with British culture during a year studying in the country when she was younger, said Brexit had turned her “dream into a nightmare”.
“I have a stable, permanent job and a good support network, and I can speak English quite fluently,” she said. “But I still have sleepless nights about what will happen. I can’t even think what those hundreds of thousands of people who are in far worse positions than mine are going through. Now this reckless, senseless, stupid move to stop freedom of movement on 31 October means turning the craziness up another notch.”
González was critical of the Home Office’s use of a constitutive application system for settled or pre-settled status instead of a “simple, declaratory registration system”. She said ending freedom of movement straight after a no-deal Brexit would mean the government was going against its promises not to change the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
“If freedom of movement ends on 31 October, where does that leave us?” she asked. “I haven’t applied for settled status yet as I haven’t been here for five years yet.”
Applying for pre-settled status now would mean having to go through checks, ID verification and potentially having to send additional information, only to go through the process again in a couple of months, she said.
Her husband applied and had to send in his passport by post in December because the app did not work properly for him. “We spent 10 days in agony right before Christmas until he got it back,” she said. “I don’t want to put myself through that if I can help it but not doing so with this latest development would mean putting myself at risk.
“How is anyone going to tell me apart from someone coming from Spain in three months’ time? What checks is any employer going to need to do?”
González said she feared for all the people in more vulnerable positions than herself, such as those who spoke poor English, had health issues or who could not keep abreast of the latest developments.
“It is mind-blowing, really,” she said. “I’ve never felt so powerless and less protected by my government, because even though I’m not allowed to vote they are supposed to be working to safeguard my rights too, as a person living in the UK and paying their taxes.”
Micael Jose Ribeiro, a software engineering student from Portugal, asked for reassurances that the government would respect the status of those who applied for settled and pre-settled status. “The Home Office has a bad record when it comes to migrants,” he said. “I don’t trust them.”
He said that distrust was why he had not registered for pre-settled status, having lived in the UK for three years. “I’m hoping parliament will extend this further,” he said. “I don’t want to give them sensitive details which could compromise my stay in the UK. There’s no one to hold the Home Office to account.”
Announcements around the settled and pre-settled status schemes, and the earlier failure to guarantee the rights of European nationals in law, made it seem like EU citizens did not matter, he said.
“EU citizens are still being used as bargaining chips in negotiations. They have been doing that by saying they’re ending freedom of movement on October 31. But that’s just a lie. What tells them they have pre-settled status and the next person doesn’t have one? They’re just doing politics to impress the tabloids, show they’re tough and prepare for an election.”
He said the UK needed migrants to run public services, and calls to impose a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 on potential EU migrants were ridiculous. “I don’t know many people who earn that,” he said. “The UK needs migrants for the NHS.”
Summing up the confusion, he added: “If I had plans to come home on November 1, would I be able to come back into the country? I don’t know.”
Dr Christoph Schuringa, 37, a Dutch lecturer in philosophy, said that although the ending of freedom of movement might seem “particularly shocking”, it was in line with the “cruelty and inhumanity” of the government’s wider hostile environment policy.
However, he doubted it could be put into place and warned that the potential difficulties in executing the policy meant the Home Office could only be motivated by a desire to “talk tough”.
“It’s quite obviously a sign of panic,” he said. “Such a proposal couldn’t possibly be implemented given there is no system in place for regulating who can enter, nor could one be put in place in time. But it’s the message that counts. Ruthless xenophobia takes priority with this government over basic humanity or even practical sense.”
Schuringa, who came to the UK when he was nine, said he had not applied for settled status partly due to concerns that the information he would have to provide might be used against him in the future.
“This Tory Home Office is not to be trusted,” he said. “These developments make me even more sceptical than I was about the scheme. Until the deadline gets close, I’d like to see what it will actually be used for, if it isn’t ditched.”
Schuringa, who also works with SOAS Detainee Support, a group that campaigns against immigration detention and deportation, said it was “chilling how this Home Office has no compunction about playing with people’s lives”.
He said the proposals were unclear and he asked whether public sector workers such as doctors and nurses who were EU citizens could at some stage be held at the border and not allowed to enter the country.
“The government speaks of taking control of the borders but in truth they have no idea how to distinguish between people who are resident here and EU citizens resident abroad who are visiting the country,” he said.
‘It’s a sign of panic’: EU nationals on the UK’s threat to end free movement – The Guardian