DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via AFP

A protest outside the UK parliament against Brexit, London, March 25, 2017

UNITED KINGDOM – The English Channel has taken a bit of water. Six months after the official entry into force of the Brexit agreement, signed on December 24, many Europeans are struggling on British territory, whether they are simple visitors or expatriates in Her Majesty’s Kingdom.

In addition to the issues surrounding fishing, the northern Irish borders, or what has recently been dubbed “the sausage war”, the exit from the European Union has put an end to the freedom of movement of people and therefore complicated the administrative requirements, in addition to those induced by the Covid-19 epidemic.

European citizens in detention

A rise in the waters to the point that at the end of spring, the tone rose between the British Minister for Immigration, Kevin Foster, and several European countries and embassies. At the heart of the tensions, the fate reserved for European travelers arriving across the Channel.

According to figures released at the end of March by the Home Office, nearly 3,300 European citizens were refused entry into British territory in the first quarter of 2021, almost four times more than in the first quarter of 2019. A direct effect of Brexit.

Home Office/HuffPost

Evolution of the number of European travelers who have been refused entry to the United Kingdom between the first quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2021

Notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by Covid-19, European citizens can travel to the UK visa-free as a tourist and for travel limited to 90 days. It is also possible for them to participate “in a wide range of activities, including business-related activities such as meetings, events and conferences”, details the site of the British national tourism agency. Job interviews are part of this range, as has also been explained by the Home office, the equivalent of the Ministry of the Interior.

However, while some returned Europeans were able to return home immediately, others were placed in detention centers, even though they had come for a job interview, or to prospect for employment. The Guardian as well as Politico echoed many testimonies, in particular of Spanish or Italian nationals in this situation. Other tourists also said that they had been questioned by the immigration services, some of whom were the subject of a fingerprint.

According to Home Office statistics, in the first quarter of 2021, 633 European nationals – including 16 French – were detained by the immigration services for more than 24 hours.

“Disproportionate” methods

If this figure is ultimately quite similar to those of the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2020, it aroused anger in Brussels. The president of the centrist group Renew in the European Parliament (the one where the macronists sit), Dacian Cioloş, raised the tone in a press release in mid-May. “Sending young EU nationals to immigration detention centers is extremely disproportionate and contravenes the spirit of good cooperation that we expect,” he thundered. Along with seven other MEPs, he called on the President of the European Commission, Ursula von Der Leyen.

On June 1, Benedetto Della Vedova, the Italian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, also warned his counterpart during a visit to London, calling on the British government to “pragmatism” and “flexibility”, as well. that relayed Politico.

Anxieties of expatriates

Besides the greater difficulties in entering the UK, others are concerned about their ability to stay there. As had already explained The HuffPost in 2019, the British government gave Europeans until June 30, 2021 to apply for permanent resident status, the “settled status” (EUSS). It gives the same rights and protections as a UK citizen, except the right to vote, and is reserved for people who have been in the UK for at least five years. For those who have been there for a shorter period of time, they can benefit from a “pre-settled status”.

For the moment, 5.6 million files have been submitted but not all have been processed. More than 300,000 requests are being processed, some of them for more than a year. Normally, all these citizens should have received a “certificate of request” which allows them to retain their rights until they get a definitive answer. But this is not always the case denounces the organization The3million, dedicated to the defense of European citizens in the United Kingdom.

“Without a ‘certificate’, they are not considered legal residents and could find themselves facing astronomical health costs (…) We can already see local authorities who do not understand that a person with a request for course of treatment retains its rights. From July 1, local authorities, landlords and employers will have to cope not only with a new immigration status, but also to find out if anyone has a pending application ”, Tance Maike Bohn, co-founder by The3million, contacted by The HuffPost

Children soon to be undocumented?

In addition to these difficulties in obtaining a response or a certificate, several testimonies emerge concerning the difficulties faced with requests for minors under 18 or tell about Kafkaesque approaches for married women. This is particularly the case of a Frenchwoman who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1977. She did apply for permanent residence in 2019, which she obtained, but under her married name. However, as the Guardian tells, his administrative file is recorded under his maiden name. Computer anomalies and bugs that should not go away according to Maike Bohn: “We expect to see a huge increase in the problems reported when the new program starts in earnest,” he fears.

One of the testimonies that illustrated these difficulties is that of the Michelin-starred chef Claude Bosi, residing in the United Kingdom for 20 years and who was refused his permanent resident status because he lacked three tax notices in his file. He assured then that the situation should return to order.

Worse, associations warned on Tuesday about the risk that European children placed in homes or foster families would become undocumented. Some find it difficult to prove their identity, provide the required residence documents or obtain the necessary support for their procedures, which are the responsibility of their legal guardian or the public authorities. According to the Interior Ministry, 3,660 vulnerable young people (up to 25 years old) have been identified as eligible for residency status, 67% of whom had submitted an application by the end of April.

As June 30 approaches, the Home office has also confirmed that it has also observed an increase in last-minute requests but assures us “to continue to help hundreds of people every day”.

Unlike France which has given British nationals three more months on its territory to comply, Kevin Foster has refused to push back the June 30 deadline again. The Minister of Immigration, however, promised that among those who still have not applied for an EUSS, those who had “reasonable reasons” would receive a 28-day “notice” by mail urging them to initiate the process. .

For the co-founder of The3Million it is once again a shambles. “We are far from the automatic rights promised before the referendum (…) On paper it almost seems that the Home Office will write to everyone, but this is not the case. Another problem is people who don’t apply. The authorities do not know who they are, because they have never registered EU citizens, as most European countries do ”, denounces Maike Bohn once again.

Fears about discrimination

What particularly worries The3Million is the discrimination to which all expatriate Europeans are exposed. “EU citizens who have not yet applied or the nearly 400,000 people still awaiting a decision will face a myriad of problems from July 1. Without confirmed immigration status, they will be unable to generate the digital code that will ultimately prove their rights to employers, healthcare providers, banks, landlords and many more. Members of their family will not be able to apply for the status ”, continues Maike Bohn.

On June 18, the government published a long document intended for employers and donors. But its complexity, its length and sometimes its vagueness have been criticized. According to Maike Bohn, many companies or real estate agencies do not know that they can, even after June 30, accept someone whose application is being processed: “For many employers, June 30 this is the final date, ”he laments.

In this context, many observers fear a repeat of the Windrush scandal. A name that refers to the boat from which many Jamaicans arrived after World War II, and which the government of the time brought in. In the early 2010s, against a background of restrictive immigration rules, many people of this generation and their descendants found themselves treated as illegal immigrants.

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