Belonging after Brexit
Young people should be focused on finding out who they are, not suddenly finding out they are living illegally. Since Brexit, this is the reality facing thousands of EU national children in care. They have until the end of June to apply to continue living in the UK through something called the EU settlement scheme (EUSS). The process is slow. The deadline is fast approaching. And many don’t even know about it.
Before Brexit things looked different. EU nationals could visit or live in the UK without needing a visa. But that has all changed. Now they have to apply to the EUSS. That includes children, and there is no guarantee they will be accepted.
For children in care, their guardian or social worker has to apply for them. Local authorities are supposed to make everyone aware or even help fill out the application. But this doesn’t seem to be happening. And time is ticking.
We found that only 39% of EU children, who have either been taken into care or are leaving care, have applied so far.
So, what does it mean if they miss the deadline? Any young person who doesn’t get pre-settled (those who have been in the UK for less than five years) or settled status (those who have evidence they have been here longer than five years) will not have the legal right to stay in the UK.
They will lose the right to work, claim benefits, rent a house, open or hold a bank account, get a driving license or access further education. They could face deportation.
The waiting game
The waiting game
Adam is four years old. He was born in London and is in care. He is a Romanian citizen, which means he needs the consent of both his parents to apply for a passport. However, Adam doesn’t know his father. This puts him in a tricky situation. His legal adviser and social worker have been left with no alternative but to apply to the EUSS. After six months, they are still waiting for a response.
Because Adam isn’t five years old yet and is separated from his parents, he can only apply for pre-settled status. Even if successful, they will still have to apply again when they can prove he has lived in the UK for five years. This could mean waiting until he is eight. Worse still, by this point there might be no government funding to support applicants in more difficult circumstances.
If he isn’t granted settlement status, Adam will be stuck. He might not be able to have a passport or any ID until after his eighteenth birthday. This is not right. Something needs to change.
A place to stay
Children shouldn’t have to live with the uncertainty of being undocumented. But right now, thousands face this outcome.
Local councils and the Home Office need to step up. They must identify every child and care leaver that needs to apply for the EUSS. Then ensure everyone involved understands how to fill out the application correctly and submit it.
We fight alongside young refugees, giving them the tools they need to rebuild their lives. Many of these children have already faced a lot. Being taken into care is hard enough. And now it looks like Brexit is about to make things a whole lot harder. They deserve a break. They deserve to belong somewhere. It’s time we gave them a better shot at life.
If you're interested in learning more about EUSS and our work lobbying the government, read ‘Looked After Children and the EU Settlement Scheme’.