EU citizens who have the right to stay in Wales after Brexit could still face deportation, according to a Senedd committee.
The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee has warned they could be faced with the prospect of having to leave if they don’t receive more time and support.
In a follow-up to a 2019 inquiry that looked at possible changes to freedom of movement, the Committee found some of the concerns raised at the time are still relevant, and that many issues have yet to be addressed.
It says there are also new concerns about potential problems caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Among them are barriers to people accessing the right support to complete their applications for EU Settled Status (EUSS), giving them the right to live and work in the UK.
Before the pandemic, many organisations offered one-to-one, in-person advice, especially useful for those people without access to or be comfortable using technology. Lockdown restrictions have greatly reduced these services and there is concern some people could slip through the net.
The Committee wants the Welsh Government to continue contacting and offering support to EU citizens in Wales as the 30 June deadline for applications to be submitted approaches. It also wants to see support extended beyond the deadline to people who may have had difficulties with their application due to their circumstances.
After 30 June, the UK Government will only grant extensions on individual cases with it describes as “reasonable grounds” and the Committee has asked the UK Home Office for clarity about exactly what the term means.
Marley Morris from the Institute for Public Policy Research said: “On the question of what more the Government can do now to particularly help people who are in vulnerable situations. I think, first of all, there needs to be some clarity over what constitutes reasonable grounds if the deadline is missed in June. At the moment, I think it’s not totally clear.”
The online-only aspect of the application procedure was both praised and criticised by witnesses. One major concern is the lack of any physical documentation for EU citizens to present to show they have the right stay here.
This has led to questions around whether people could struggle to find jobs, rent homes or even get back into the UK should they leave.
David Rees MS, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, said: “EU citizens have an important role to play in Wales and play an important part, not just economically, but to our society more generally. Under the Brexit agreement, they have the right to stay in the UK and the Welsh Government has said it welcomes them.
“While immigration is not devolved, this Committee is concerned that the excellent support which was available pre-pandemic is dwindling and that people are at risk of slipping through the net.
“With the deadline for applications approaching in June, we think it is critical the Welsh Government step up its campaign to reach EU citizens and make sure people who don’t necessarily have access to digital resources such as the internet are given the time they need to submit their application.”
The Committee has written letters to the Welsh Government and the UK Home Office with its latest findings.