LEICESTER, United Kingdom – European citizens living in the United Kingdom should not have to pay a fee to remain in the country after Brexit if they are “vulnerable,” according to the England and Wales bishops’ conference.
The government has said that EU adults will have to pay a little over $85 to register under the proposed EU Settlement Scheme. EU citizens will have to pay nearly $45 to register each of their children.
Westminster Auxiliary Bishop Paul McAleenan, the bishops’ conference lead bishop for migration and asylum, is calling for “a fee-waiver for larger families, people in particularly vulnerable positions or those facing economic hardship.”
The United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the 28-nation European Union on June 23, 2016. However, several issues remain to be ironed out during the drawn-out divorce, including the rights of the estimated 3 million EU citizens living in Britain.
In a letter to the UK Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes, McAleenan pointed out that the majority of EU citizens are Catholic, and safeguarding their rights was a priority for the Catholic Church.
He said the proposed registration fee was likely to present a significant barrier for some EU citizens who wished to continue living in the UK.
The bishop said the impact is likely to be particularly severe for larger families on low incomes, “many of whom are already unable to afford basic outgoings such as food and household bills,” and now would have to spend a large amount of money to register themselves and their children.
“In the most severe cases particularly vulnerable people, including many of those who are currently homeless, will simply be unable to pay the registration fee at all, meaning they will lose their status or the cost will fall on charities with already very limited resources,” said McAleenan.
According to the scheme, EU citizens will have to have lived in the UK for five years before applying, while not having been absent for more than 6 of any 12 months during that five years. They will also have to clear a criminal background check.
The settlement scheme will open in a phased way later this year and is scheduled to be fully operational by March 30, 2019. The deadline for applications is June 30, 2021. Those EU citizens who have not lived in the UK for five years can be granted “pre-settled” status and apply after they have fulfilled the five-year requirement.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is now the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has objected to the plan, saying EU citizens “who have contributed to British society and paid their taxes” should not have to pay a fee to stay in the country.
“More needs to be done to ensure that vulnerable EU citizens are properly catered for and that any delays faced by citizens with the registration process itself does not create unnecessary anxiety,” Verhofstadt said.