Manchester City Council last week renewed its pledge to assist the children of EU citizens who have been taken into care, or recently left care, who may risk sanctions due to Brexit immigration changes.
The council pledge preceded a report from The Children’s Society which found that just 39% of children in care, and those young adults that have recently left care, have had applications to remain in the country submitted on their behalf. This “undocumented” status will affect their ability to work, rent a home or receive benefits in the UK.
Manchester council renewed its commitment, on 24 March, to help young people in its care who are affected by the changes and need to make applications to the Home Office for settled status under the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS), or face becoming “undocumented” adults as they turn 18.
Last March, Manchester became the first UK local authority to sign up to a pledge launched by Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) which asked local councils to demonstrate their determination and commitment to do the right thing by these young people.
Manchester pledged to identify all its looked after children and care leavers affected by Brexit, to connect them with legal advice to enable them to make the “most appropriate immigration applications”, and to support all those eligible to apply for British citizenship under the EUSS.
With the support of the GMIAU, over the last twelve months, Manchester council has already supported 110 young people in its care affected by the changes. The pledge’s renewal will enable the GMIAU to work with the council to ensure kids in the council’s care affected by the change are protected. In a statement, councillor Garry Bridges, the council’s lead for children and schools, said:
“The children and young people we’re helping now are the forgotten face of Brexit and the fallout from it could easily impact them for the rest of their lives, as through no fault of their own they continue to face insecurity about their status. This is both unacceptable and frightening for them.
“We’ve had a dedicated senior member of staff leading on this work throughout the last year with the help of Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit to support young people and to help them access the documents they need to make applications to the Home Office to secure their futures.
“Time is fast running out however to help them and others in similar situations and it’s clearly not right that children and young people as vulnerable and alone as they are, have been left in this position.
“We’re determined to keep doing everything in our power that we can to support them through this and to make sure they don’t become part of a new Windrush generation – let down and forgotten by the state – when the reality is that the state should clearly be looking out for and protecting them.”
European Union nationals who wish to remain in the UK must submit an application to the EU Settlement Scheme to the government and have it approved before 30 June 2021. The changes come into effect on 1 July.
Voluntary organisation GMIAU, which is supporting people subject to immigration control in the city region, welcomed the news of the council’s renewed commitment. Denise McDowell, chief executive of GMIAU said in a statement:
“We are delighted that Manchester City Council is renewing its commitment to children and young people affected by Brexit. The learning the Council has gained over the last year means this updated pledge is a model of good practice for local authorities across the country.
“We remain extremely concerned that flaws in the government’s EU Settlement Scheme, made worse by the impact of Covid, will mean children across the country are at risk come July.
“This pledge will put Manchester in the best position to support and advocate for all its children, whatever their immigration needs. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council to make good these commitments – we know it will bring life-changing benefits for the children and young people affected.”
Human rights campaign group the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) says the government promised after Brexit it would give automatic status to everyone who was not a serious criminal.
“The precise opposite has happened,” GMIAU policy officer Rivka Shaw told The Meteor. “You have to register actively for the EU Settlement Scheme, and people will, inevitably, slip through the cracks.”
Under the changes, if EU nationals can prove their nationality and that they have been resident in the UK for over five years they receive settled status. If citizens have been resident for less than five years and were resident before 31 December 2020 then they receive pre-settled status. This means having to make a second application for settled status later, when they have been here for five years.
“So from 1 July, EU nationals who have not applied to the EU Settlement Scheme for whatever reason all of a sudden won’t have immigration status,” Shaw says. “Some children will not have documents and will only get pre-settled status when they should get settled status.
The Meteor was informed by GMIAU that councils simply identifying which young people it looked after would be affected by the immigration changes, was a necessary prerequisite for supporting them, one which councils across the country had not taken.
Local authority data on the EU Settlement Scheme looked-after children and care leavers survey November 2020, compiled by the Home Office, indicates other councils are further behind than Manchester. It shows five of the 10 councils in Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Tameside and Wigan) having made no applications where there were young people eligible for the settlement scheme in their districts.
The data also shows two boroughs (Stockport and Trafford) possessing no data on how many young people were eligible in their districts, despite neighbouring Manchester having 73 children eligible, indicating there may be no process of identification of young people affected by the Brexit immigration changes.
The Children’s Society have produced a guide for local authorities on how to look after children in their care, in regards to the EU Settlement Scheme. Those working with locals subject to immigration controls locally hope Manchester council renewing its pledge will spur other councils in GM to follow suit by identifying young people affected and then support them in their application for settled status.
“There’s a risk people become undocumented overnight,” Shaw says. “The government’s hostile environment policy means this will curtail your rights pretty quickly. You will struggle to access basic goods like employment, renting, education or healthcare.”
“Some children will be growing up in local authority care right now without knowing this is a risk for them. But when they turn 18 it could be disastrous if an application has not been made.”
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