Posted: 22 August 2019

European children and families need stability and security

There has been a great deal of confusion and anxiety in the last week for European nationals. It follows the government’s announcement that in the event of no deal, free movement with the EU would end on 31st October.   

As we leave the European Union, all European nationals, including children and family members, who are living in UK, will need to secure their status through the EU Settlement Scheme or secure British citizenship by the deadline of December 2020. This will allow them to continue living, working and enjoying their rights here.  

New quarterly statistics 

Today’s EU Settlement Scheme quarterly statistics show that between 28 August 2018 and 30 June 2019, 107,110 children under 16 applied to the EU settlement scheme and 92,600 (86%) have had a conclusion to their application. Of these: 

  • 59,830 (65%) got Settled Status  
  • 32,580 (35%) got Pre-Settled Status 
  • 180 applications were withdrawn/void or were invalid while none were refused.  

This data shows that only 12% of the applications to the EU Settlement Scheme have come from children aged under 16. Yet according the Migration Observatory, in 2018, there were 700,000 EU national children living in the UK that’s around a fifth (21%) of the EU population overall. This suggests that the proportion of applications from children is lower than expected and it means that around 600,000 children have not yet applied to the scheme. This may be because they also have rights to British citizenship, but it’s difficult to say based on available data. 

Among this cohort will be many vulnerable children who face additional challenges to securing their status: looked after children and care leavers, children in prison or mental health institutions, children in informal fostering arrangements, children outside formal education system, Roma children and many more. They will be relying on carers, local authorities and others to secure their status. Whilst the application, on the face of it, appears straightforward, when complexities arise they often require specialist legal advice and support. One of our particular concerns is the challenges they will face in providing documentation, if they cannot a young people may receive the wrong decision or face longer waits and periods of uncertainty.  

We welcome the age breakdowns, but this is not the whole picture. Legally children are all under 18s, but 16 and 17-year-olds have been subsumed into the adult data. Some of the most vulnerable young people - those leaving care or are estranged from their families - often fall in this age bracket. Putting them with the adult population means we have no way of knowing whether these young people have applied for settled status. We want to see ages broken down further so under 18s and 18-25 year olds.

We are disappointed these new statistics do not provide information on how long applications are taking. We know from the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium members that some have waited up to 8 months from the trial period to get a conclusion. The quarterly statistics suggest that 14,510 children under 16 may be waiting for their application to be concluded, however, these could be from recent applicants or those who have waited a long time. More information is needed. 

Risks of being left without status or citizenship 

If European children and their family members do not secure their status through the scheme or secure British citizenship, we risk having thousands of individuals becoming unlawful residents or living in deep uncertainty while the Home Office deals with the backlog. Without status, children and young people are at risk of ending up destitute and being barred from accessing vital services like education, employment, housing, some NHS care and other vital services. 

We know the government is working hard to help European nationals to apply. In 2019 they invested £9 million into voluntary sector services, some of which are members of the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium. This is of course welcome support however more needs to be done to make sure that children and families secure their future.  

As well as supporting children and families to secure British citizenship where possible, the government must seriously consider implementing a declaratory system which would give automatic rights to all European nationals and wouldn’t leave them in legal limbo after the deadline. Children and families would still need to register and documentary proof of status would be needed but this would go a long way to provide security and peace of mind to hundreds of thousands of our European community members.