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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Home Office suspected of prioritising high profile EU citizens

Today's Guardian contains an interesting (and rather disturbing) footnote to the problems caused for EU citizens living in the UK as a result of Brexit.

The paper reports on concerns expressed by campaigners that the Home Office is taking rapid steps to resolve the problems experienced by high-profile European nationals applying for settled status who have gone public with their difficulties, whilst leaving millions of others in the lurch.

They say that on Monday night the television star and manager of a Michelin starred restaurant Fred Sirieix, who has lived in the UK for the past 27 years, expressed frustration on Twitter at being asked to provide evidence of five years’ continuous residence despite having submitted his passport details through the mobile phone application. The story continues:

Best known as the host of Channel 4’s First Dates, Sirieix messaged the Home Office and the home secretary, Priti Patel, and his 110,000 Twitter followers, asking: “Is this a joke? I have lived here for 27 years continuously.” Within 12 hours, he had received a phone call from the Home Office, who told him a mistake had been made, and emailed him confirmation that he had been awarded settled status.

“I didn’t have to call them. They called me. I’ve no idea why my case was sorted so quickly. It probably helped that I had one thousand retweets,” he said. “But there will be many other people without a voice, anxiously waiting for help.”

He had been dismayed to receive a notification from the Home Office stating that the extra information was needed because “our automated checks did not confirm your residence in the UK”. He was puzzled about why the checks had not picked up that he had been in uninterrupted employment with the same employer for more than a decade, paying taxes and national insurance.

The experience of applying to remain in the country he considers home had made him feel a “second-class citizen”, he said.

It is little wonder that Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million charity, supporting the estimated 3.2 million EU nationals who need to apply if they wish to remain in the UK after Brexit, is concerned that applicants who are unable to trigger explosions of online outrage are not getting such swift assistance from the Home Office.

“For every high-profile case that gets a happy ending there are hundreds and thousands of people who are neither getting the status they are entitled to nor help from the Home Office to put things right,” she said.

One way of avoiding these difficulties would be to tweak the scheme so that EU nationals who were resident in the UK did not have to apply for the right to remain (waiting for Home Office approval of their status) but could simply register their presence here, she added. “The only way to avoid immense heartache and a Windrush scenario further down the line is for the prime minister to honour his referendum pledge to EU citizens: to put the rights of all EU citizens into law and change the settlement scheme from application to registration.”
It is little wonder that there is no confidence in the impartiality or the efficacy of the system when it appears that the Home Office is fire fighting adverse publicity rather than getting on with the job.

The way that EU nationals have been treated is an international embarrassment and a disgrace. It reflects badly on the UK and will impact on the many thousands of UK nationals living and working within the EU. This cannot be allowed to continue.
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