Alexandra Bulat

 

We have left the EU. After years of uncertainty and living in a legal limbo, many EU citizens, including students and academics, feel uneasy about their future in the UK. Despite being promised by politicians that nothing will change for those of us already here, we must apply to stay in our homes. I am one of many early career academics who applied for the EU Settlement Scheme.

 

Applying for the EU Settlement Scheme is not a choice for most of us. If you want to stay in the UK after Brexit, you need to apply. Even if you have a blue ‘EEA Permanent Residence’ document, that won’t be valid anymore in the near future when the EEA rules underpinning that will cease to be implemented in the UK – you need to exchange it for settled status.

 

It is important you apply before the deadline of 30 June 2021. Failing to do so means you will be unlawfully resident after the deadline and unable to work, rent, go to the doctor or access other services. If you are unsure about your personal situation, always seek information and quality advice. The EU Londoners Hub is a good resource to start (not only for those in London!). Most universities provide support for staff and students applying for the EU Settlement Scheme – speak to your HR department or student services.

 

If you have been living in the UK for a continuous period of five years (defined as at least 6 months in every 12-month period), you qualify for ‘settled status’ (indefinite leave to remain). If you have been living in the UK for fewer than five years, you qualify for ‘pre-settled status’ (limited leave to remain). Over 40% of applicants so far are granted ‘pre-settled status’. EU citizens who work as researchers and academics are more likely to spend longer periods of time abroad and often struggle to prove their continuous residence.

 

If you have pre-settled status, you will need to go again through the scheme before your status expires in five years’ time. To obtain settled status, you will need to demonstrate the continuous five-year residence. Another important detail for researchers is being aware that even if you have ‘settled status’, it is not exactly ‘indefinite’ – settled status lapses if you are away from the UK for more than five consecutive years. Do keep this in mind when planning your research projects and careers. Update your details (such as ID and contact information) if they change in the future.

 

I heard several stories of students and early career researchers being initially offered ‘pre-settled status’, despite living in the UK for longer than five years. Even if the automatic checks do not find sufficient evidence on you (which can happen if, for example, you do not have a HMRC or DWP record during your studies), there is always an option to provide additional evidence, such as letters from your university, degree transcripts and other documents, depending on your circumstances.

 

I worked during my studies and was still asked to provide additional evidence for all my years in the UK, but I eventually got settled status. Do not settle for pre-settled status if you qualify for settled status. Pre-settled status gives you fewer rights.

 

Once you have your pre-settled or settled status (or if you are not affected by this scheme), think about others who may not have it already. There are still people who do not know they have to apply or think that the scheme does not apply to them.

 

For instance, I recently met a student who was confident they do not have to apply because they have a student status. Your EU student status is not the same as your immigration status – you still must apply if you want to stay after Brexit. Non-EU family members dependent on the rights of EU citizens also must apply through the scheme – make sure your family members have the right status after Brexit. Also, think about others in your local community who may need to apply.

 

Giving legal advice in the UK without being registered with the appropriate regulatory body is illegal, but everyone can give legal support. For instance, you can point your friends, colleagues and neighbours to resources such as the EU Londoners’ Hub or encourage them to subscribe to EU citizens’ rights groups newsletters such as the the3million’s. If you encounter anyone who needs assistance with their application, there are many charities you can refer them to, such as Settled and Here for Good.

 

As a citizens’ rights campaigner who is directly affected by Brexit, I usually point out the problems with the EU Settlement Scheme. It is essential to raise awareness and reach out to EU citizen communities, but it is also important for the wider academic community to ask the relevant questions about the scheme. One of the issues I am campaigning on through my work in the3million is to have a physical proof of status for EU citizens.

 

Professor Tanja Bueltmann at Northumbria University and the3million recently published a survey showing how almost 90% of EU citizens want to have a physical proof of their settled or pre-settled status.

 

This is something the Government has refused to engage with in a meaningful way, despite warnings from legal experts and migrant rights organisations such as the3million and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) that the current digital-only status would lead to more discrimination in future right to work and rent checks, for instance.

 

The scheme can also still be changed to a registration for proof of status (rather than the current application system) to ensure that no one is made unlawful if the Government fails to inform them before the deadline.

 

There are many other concerns expressed by EU citizens affected by the scheme. Applying for the EU Settlement Scheme is just the start of a long-term relationship with the Home Office.

 

The fact that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was passed unamended does not mean this is the end of the citizens’ rights debate. There are still many unresolved issues. The Political Studies Association (PSA) and other professional organisations can play a role in listening to the concerns of their non-UK EU and EEA members.

 

I invite PSA members, and particularly early career researchers such as myself, to share their experiences and concerns with me, so that we can better represent some of the issues in the future.

 

 

 

Alexandra Bulat is completing her PhD studies at University College London (UCL). Her academic research focuses on attitudes towards EU migrants in two local authority areas in England – Newham and Tendring. She was the Comms Officer for the PSA ECN in 2018-2019. Alexandra has been an advocate of EU migrants’ rights since 2016 and is currently the chair of Young Europeans, part of the EU citizens’ rights organisation the3million. She is also a volunteer with the charity Settled, advising EU citizens on their rights in the UK. Alexandra tweets on migration and citizens’ rights @alexandrabulat. Image credit: CC by European Parliament/Twitter.