EU citizens are being offered financial incentives to leave the UK, the Guardian has learned, months before the deadline to apply for settled status.
From 1 January EU citizens have quietly been added to the government’s voluntary returns scheme where financial support is offered as an encouragement to return to their country of origin.
Payments can include flights and up to £2,000 resettlement money. The scheme is designed to help some migrants in the UK to leave voluntarily.
People working to help vulnerable EU citizens in the UK said the offer of money to return home contradicted the government’s claim that it was doing everything it could to encourage people to register for settled status. The deadline for Europeans living in the UK to apply for the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) is 30 June.
Benjamin Morgan, who runs the EU homeless rights project at the Public Interest Law Centre, said: “It is clear from our casework that some of the most vulnerable EU citizens are yet to resolve their status. Barriers to application and delays in Home Office decision-making remain significant factors.
“This mixed messaging around settled status on the one hand and voluntary returns on the other, seriously undermines the government’s claim that the rights of vulnerable Europeans will be protected after Brexit.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Some people may choose not to obtain status under EUSS and may not wish to remain in the UK after the deadline. That is why we have written to stakeholders to inform them that EEA nationals who wish to leave the UK may now be eligible for support to help them do so under the voluntary returns scheme.”
The news came as research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JWCI) warned that thousands of European key workers risked losing their legal right to remain in the UK.
The report, titled When the Clapping Stops: EU Care Workers After Brexit, warns that thousands of European citizens currently fulfilling key worker roles in the care sector, as well as those working in construction, manufacturing and agriculture, are at risk of losing their legal status and face removal from the UK.
Of 295 care workers surveyed by the charity, one in seven were unsure what EUSS was, one in three had not heard about it before being in touch with JCWI, and one in three did not know there was a deadline for the settlement scheme, nor when it was. Most of the surveys were conducted between January and March last year.
“If even a tiny fraction of the estimated EEA+ (EU, EEA and Swiss) residents are unable to apply in time, tens of thousands will lose their status overnight,” the report states.
“Without urgent action, the care sector is likely to be devastated,” it adds.
The report calls for the immediate lifting of the deadline for applying to the EUSS, for European citizens to be automatically granted settled status, and for an end to “hostile environment” policies.