LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Charging European Union citizens to secure the right to stay in Britain after Brexit is “not only unprincipled but will also create a barrier for larger families or people facing financial difficulties,” according to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.
The UK government has established a “settlement scheme” for EU citizens currently residing in the country, but whose right to live in the country comes under a cloud after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019.
The government has said that EU adults will have to pay a little over $85 to register under the scheme, with an additional $45 to register each of their children.
“We understand that, especially for people who have contributed to our society over many years, it may feel unjust and divisive that they are now required to apply for permission to stay. We also expect that some people, particularly those who are already vulnerable, may face difficulties in practically accessing the scheme, leaving their immigration status at risk,” said Bishop Paul McAleenan, the spokesperson on migration and asylum for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
He said the bishops “strongly oppose” the decision to charge people for applying for settled status.
“The Catholic Church in England and Wales stands in solidarity with all EU citizens who have made their home here. As the majority are themselves Catholic this is a special pastoral concern for us,” he said in a Dec. 12 statement.
“The Church has experienced first-hand the extensive contribution that people from across Europe have made to our society. They are an integral and valued part of our parishes, schools and communities. We also recognize the evidence that immigration from Europe has not undermined opportunities for UK citizens, but rather brought considerable economic and social benefits,” the bishop said.
The bishops’ conference has brought its concerns to the government, and McAleenan said the bishops will continue to lobby officials as the scheme is implemented.
“Notwithstanding our concerns about these principles and practicalities, it remains a fact that EU citizens must apply if they are to protect their existing rights and their place in our society. We therefore ask Catholic parishes, schools and organizations to bring the Settlement Scheme to the attention of all who need to avail of it and to be aware of vulnerable people who may face barriers to applying or not realize that they need to apply,” the bishop said.
Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting to save her Brexit deal with the European Union as she faces a vote on the agreement in the UK Parliament: Over 100 Conservative Party Members of Parliament voted against her in a confidence vote on Wednesday; she survived the vote, but her standing was greatly weakened.
On Friday, EU leaders told her the deal could not be renegotiated, and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said he had “no mandate for future negotiations.”
A pilot to test the settlement scheme involving health care workers has also hurt the government. The app being used doesn’t work on the iPhone, and several Android phones using the app failed to recognize identification documents.