Last week, hospital staff and university students in the North-West became the first people to experience the application process that will allow EU citizens and their families to exercise their right to stay after we leave the EU.

The government assures people that the application for settled status will be simple and streamlined, as easy as shopping online, unlike the notorious 85-page application for permanent residence.

However, the Home Office knows it has a trust issue in the wake of the Windrush debacle—not helped by the years of policy aimed at creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants. 

What we’re doing 

NPC is running the Transition Advice Fund, a pooled fund aimed at ensuring that people can secure this right to settled status. We are trying to make sure that the scheme itself is practical and user-friendly for all applicants, and that the appropriate information, advice and support is available so people can navigate the process.  

We supported the Migration Observatory’s research looking at who might struggle with this new application process, and today we publish new research by Revealing Reality looking at the barriers and how these might be overcome.  

Speaking to Portuguese, Polish, Romanian and Roma communities in five areas of the UK, the researchers aimed to target people who are not currently very engaged with government information and could be at risk of missing out.    

What did they find?  

  • There are emotional as well as practical barriers to engagement:Among the people spoken to, the research found a pervading sense of anxiety and lack of trust in the government. Fear of severe consequences if they make a mistake could deter people from engaging with the scheme or lead them to pay for help they don’t need. The government is hoping that charities, community and faith groups will be able to reassure people and, where needed, offer help at low or no cost. We’re hearing from charities that they need information and the resources to back this up.
  • Awareness is low: More than two years since the referendum, many people have stopped paying attention. Myths and conflicting information about Brexit have confused people, leading some to become desensitised to the issue.
  • Evidence of residence could be an issue for some people: While most people should be able to get through the process without problems, people who have worked in the informal economy, or who haven’t registered for out of work benefits despite being unemployed, could struggle to evidence their residence. The £65 cost of the application could also pose a problem for people on the lowest incomes.
  • Information through official channels won’t reach everyone: Official information simply does not reach many people, with the research highlighting the reliance on informal networks, word of mouth and social media. This is both a risk—where rumours and misinformation can spread rapidly—and an opportunity, for new ways of reaching people. Again, the role of community groups will be vital as a conduit for accurate information and a source of help and support.   

Though the offer of settled status is one of the few concrete achievements of the Brexit process so far, there’s a long way to go before it becomes a reality. Will government make best use of the experience and networks of the voluntary sector? And will they provide the resources to deliver?  

Read the research here and join the conversation on Twitter.

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