Thousands of children ‘set to become undocumented’ after EU Settlement Scheme deadline

Thousands of EU children living in the UK are estimated to become undocumented this week because applications to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) have not yet been made on their behalf, charities say.

The Children’s Society estimates that there are thousands of youngsters for whom applications have not been submitted, while others are caught in a growing backlog of cases ahead of the June 30 deadline.

And Coram Children’s Legal Centre believes thousands will become undocumented when the deadline passes.

Children who need to apply but have not done so by June 30 will lose their legal right to live in the UK, and will face barriers entering employment, starting a tenancy agreement and making a new benefit claim.

They will be able to apply to the scheme if they miss the deadline under a set of “reasonable grounds” set out by the Home Office, but may not discover they are undocumented for years.

Precise numbers for children who need to apply to the EUSS are not known, but estimates put the number of EU children of EU parents living in the UK at between 689,000 and more than 900,000.

This does not include non-EU citizen children of EU citizens and new babies.

Latest Home Office figures show that 685,370 grants for status up to March 31 were made to children.

A Home Office survey found that, as of April 23, almost a third (1,155) of the 3,660 looked-after children and care leavers identified by the Government as eligible had not applied to the scheme.

The Children’s Society stressed that these are only the known children, and that thousands more are likely to be affected but have not yet been identified.

Marieke Widmann, policy and practice adviser at the Children’s Society, told the PA news agency: “You can look at those numbers, but those numbers don’t get the complete picture, because there are likely hundreds and thousands of children who are in care, or care leavers, who have yet to be identified.

“So there’s a concern about that, just simply the fact that they haven’t yet been identified, no-one’s realised they needed to make an application to the EUSS, and so the process doesn’t end for them on June 30, or for local authorities on June 30 – that needs to be an ongoing process to identify those young people.”

Ms Widmann said looked-after children may only discover that they need to apply years from now when they leave care, and this will add “anguish” and stress at a time when they are transitioning to independent living.

And at that point the official help and support systems set up to guide people through the application process may no longer be available.

Ms Widmann continued: “It could be years from now, at which point those support services might no longer be here, so it’s wonderful they can apply late, but, if you’re applying in 10 years, the services that are currently in place to support people to apply to the EUSS will likely not be there.

“And so you’ll face that kind of added challenge of trying to apply to a system that is no longer a focus, and for which you might not have a lot of evidence.”

The charity said it has been inundated with “pleas for help” in recent weeks, and has told the Government it will not be able to help all those who have approached it.

It said there is a “considerable backlog” as increasing numbers of applications are made, which is putting a lot of stress on parents waiting for a decision.

Some parents have previously applied to the scheme for themselves and are now “scrambling” because they have realised they must also do so for their children.

Others have been struggling to apply for their children who do not have passports, because embassies have been closed during the pandemic.

And some are finding it difficult to produce evidence that their child was in the UK before December 2020.

Ms Widmann added: “The reason we are focused on children is the fact that they will bear – especially children in care – will bear the consequences of somebody not having applied on their behalf.

“And that is why we’ve been keen to bring this to the attention of local authorities, of the Government, to ensure that they’ve paid attention to this group of children who are in state care, and who we bear a duty to, to ensure that they are secure, that we don’t leave them without status and then bearing the consequences of that in the future.”

Kevin Foster, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, said the scheme has been “hugely successful” and everyone who applies by the deadline will have their rights protected.

He added: “Thanks to our targeted campaigns and communications to encourage parents to apply for their children, we have seen a rise in applications from under-18s.

“If someone eligible for the scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, such as being a care leaver or a parent did not apply for them, they will be given a further opportunity to apply.”

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