EU citizens are the guinea pigs of the new digital border system

Updated 2 August 2021: Guardian: EU citizens who applied to stay in Britain facing threat of deportation

The Home Office appears to be in breach of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, says legal charity

European citizens who have applied for settled status are being detained and threatened with deportation, a development that contradicts assurances from ministers and appears to contravene the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The Home Office has served EU nationals with removal directions even though they could prove they had applied for settled status, which should protect their rights to remain in the UK.

Ministers have repeatedly promised that anyone who had applied by the 30 June deadline would have their existing rights protected while their case was heard.

The apparent failure to honour that agreement has prompted accusations of either “administrative incompetence” by Home Office officials or a “wilful” attempt to deport as many EU nationals as possible on the assumption they are easier to remove, for instance, than asylum seekers.

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Updated June 7 2021: Channel 4 on Youtube:

Millions of EU citizens who live in the UK were given until the end of this month to apply for settled status. It’s feared that many people will fail to meet that deadline and campaigners want it extended. But even for those whose applications have been processed, there is no certificate to prove your status, just a digital code. But that’s not good enough, say people who are now worrying about future access to NHS treatment or are fearing problems returning to the UK if they visit their home countries.

28 May 2021: From StatusNow4All signatory Migrant Voice: EU citizens are the guinea pigs of the new digital border system

We are gravely concerned by reports of the Border Force’s treatment of EU nationals at the UK border in recent months – especially as the Home Office gears up to introduce a fully digital border by the end of 2025. 

Last week, the Guardian reported on the stories of EU nationals detained upon entry to the UK, despite having the right to be in the country. 

This included a German citizen who was detained at Heathrow airport, even though he had Settled Status, Indefinite Leave to Remain and had applied for a British passport. There have been further reports, too, including that of a Spanish man who was detained despite telling border officials that he was in the country for a job interview. 

We are alarmed by these reports, and are worried that Border Force officials may not have received adequate training on rules regarding EU citizens entering the UK following Brexit. 

Among our own team, one colleague, who is an EU national, said that when she entered the country in early January, just a few days after Brexit, she spoke to an immigration official who scanned her passport after it didn’t scan at the e-passport gate.

Our colleague described her surprise after the official asked if she had applied for Settled Status, which she confirmed, before asking if she would receive a document to prove her status.

“He didn’t ask to see my evidence, he seemed to know that EU nationals still had time to apply for Settled Status. But what shocked me was that this border official knew less about the system than I. He clearly didn’t know or have any training in how evidence of Settled Status was going to work, and he couldn’t see my status in his own computer system,” she said.

Indeed, in our report Unsettling, we previously called for EU citizens to be provided with physical documents to show their Settled Status because of our concerns over having a fully digital system. “No physical evidence is the worst, [it’s a] disaster waiting to happen,” said one of the EU nationals surveyed.

While the official made no attempt to refuse her entry, our colleague added: “Given the lack of information and training it made me worried of how anyone else from his team would treat me and others the next time.

“Knowing how complicated it is to show your status, and how much could go wrong in that process, it shocked me to think that we would also have to do that at the border.”

We fear this situation may worsen as more EU nationals travel and return to the UK when Covid-19 restrictions ease over the summer – and after the deadline for the government’s Settled Status scheme closes at the end of June. At that time there will be some whose applications are still to be decided and therefore won’t have any proof of status.

The Government’s new proposed plan for legal migration and border control states: “We will ensure the smooth flow of those coming legitimately to the UK. By summer 2021, all Border Force staff will have the ability, if required, to check whether an individual has applied for, or been granted status under the EUSS [EU Settlement Scheme], should they need to do so.” 

We question why this system, which has been in the making for over two years, will not be in place until the summer given that as of July 1st Border Force officials will be allowed to start checking for Settled or Pre-settled Status. We also question why they are already checking status when they’re not meant to.

Border Force officials must be properly trained in the new Brexit rules to ensure that EU citizens with Settled or Pre-Settled Status are not unlawfully detained on entry to the UK. Border Force officials should also be trained to know that those who enter for job interviews or to attend conferences are allowed to enter.

We fear that millions of EU citizens are effectively being used as human guinea pigs to prepare for and test the rollout of the UK’s digital border system.