The UK government’s immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, has set out the government’s commitment to support the “Windrush” generation. The “Windrush” generation is a reference to the ship, the Empire Windrush, that brought workers from the West Indies to Britain in 1948.
Some of the “Windrush” generation are finding it difficult to evidence their entitlement to stay in the UK because, after arriving here as children, they never had a need to update their passports and immigration documents. The “hostile environment”, aimed at making it difficult for illegal immigrants to settle in the UK, has meant that many people living here legally are being asked to produce documents they simply don’t have. This could be when they try to access healthcare, take employment, open a bank account, or rent a property.
Similarities can be drawn with EU nationals who will be thinking about what documentation they can produce to prove their right to remain in the UK. There will be thousands of EU nationals who do not hold passports and/or do not have a paper trail to evidence their nationality or time spent in the UK. Without such documents they will find it difficult to meet the requirements to apply for residency documentation. Such EU nationals will be feeling the same levels of anxiety and may be experiencing the same hostile environment that the “Windrush” generation are facing. However, for EU nationals there comes an added pressure. If an application is not made within six months of the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 (i.e. by 30 June 2021), they may find that the situation escalates, with no information at present on what will happen to those EU nationals who haven’t obtained one of the residence documents.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, has identified this same issue when speaking to The Telegraph. He acknowledged: “This could be worrying for millions of EU citizens in the UK who may fear that they could face similar treatment after Brexit.” He has anticipated that MEPs will be looking for safeguards for their constituents.
The UK government has accepted that the “Windrush” people are entitled to reside in the UK and access public services. The government has committed to work with any individuals who do not have documentation to prove their right to be in the UK. To help with this a new dedicated Home Office team will work with those individuals to gather evidence to build a picture to prove they have been living or working in the UK. Once the evidence has been collected showing they may live in the UK the Home Office will aim to resolve cases, at no cost to the applicant, within two weeks.
While the Brexit talks have gone more smoothly as of late, there is not the same commitment between the UK government and EU governments to help EU nationals. We are working with employers of EU nationals and individual EU nationals to advise on the best course of action they can take.