SDLP Councillor and prominent rights campaigner Lilian Seenoi-Barr has called on the joint First Ministers to use their influence with the UK Home Office and ensure the EU Settlement scheme is scrapped in its current format. Her call follows numerous reports of delays and confusion about how the scheme operates, and reports of threatening and derogatory letters being sent by the Home Office.
Cllr Seenoi-Barr made the call as the deadline for application approaches with many people across Northern Ireland receiving alarming letters from the Home Office. Cllr Seenoi-Barr called for the scheme to be replaced with a declaratory system of residence rights, similar to that which many EU states have introduced for UK nationals resident in those countries.
Speaking as the 30th June deadline approached, Cllr Seenoi-Barr said:
“Over the last number of weeks I have been contacted by people who have created a home and a life for themselves and their families in Northern Ireland who are now worried about their future after receiving aggressive, threatening letters from the UK Home Office. Information about the EU settlement scheme operated by the British Government has been poorly advertised and has not reached significant numbers of people who will be affected by changes to immigration rules. To receive a letter saying that you and your family will be considered ‘unlawfully present’, will lose access to key public services and will be subject to ‘enforcement action’ is degrading, frightening and wrong.
“The SDLP has raised these issues and will continue to press British Government Ministers to radically alter their approach. I am now calling on the joint First Ministers to intervene and make a direct call to the Home Office to scrap this scheme and lift the threat from people who have chosen to make their home here.
“Thirteen EU countries have implemented a declaratory system for residents rights – where UK nationals living there do not have to apply for residence rights. There is no reason that similar systems could not operate effectively in Northern Ireland. That is exactly what our joint First Ministers should be seeking to have introduced here. The one-size-fits-all approach pursued by the Home Office also ignores our unique situation with a land border with the EU, creating even more barriers for residents. This not only places undue stress and anxiety on those who live here, but it makes it a less attractive place to work and settle for those coming from abroad.”