Migrant Children in Care are Being Robbed of their Settled Status

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was written by one of our passionate readers, Mr. Aaron Gates-Lincoln, writer for Immigration News. The opinions expressed within reflect only the writer’s views and not The European Sting’s position on the issue.

The UK immigration system is a complex web of hostile environment policies, which are self-admittingly designed to make the lives of migrants hard. Concerns have now begun to rise that these policies are deepening, and are impacting the lives of vulnerable children more so than ever. 

It is being estimated that thousands of children of EU nationals who are now in the UK care system are going to be put at risk by flaws in the EU Settlement Scheme. The scheme, introduced after Brexit, allows EU citizens to apply to receive indefinite leave to remain status within the UK. For children in care, applications for the scheme must be submitted by the local authority in which they are situated in. 

However, a Freedom of Information request by the Children’s Society has found that so far, fewer than 40% of the 3700 or so eligible children in care that are known of have had their applications submitted. Numbers may be significantly higher than this, as many local authorities do not keep nationality data for children in care. With the deadline for applications now less than 3 months away, this is extremely worrying for the immigration security of this group of vulnerable children. 

To exacerbate the anxiety surrounding these numbers, it is not clear how not submitting an application may impact these children. Concerns are being raised that the issue could mirror that of the Windrush scandal, in which thousands of Commonwealth citizens were wrongly detained and deported due to problems surrounding documentation. With this in mind, it could be estimated that the group will apply for housing or employment in the future and only then discover their unlawful status. This could seriously put them at the risk of unjust detainment and deportation.

The EU Settlement Scheme has emerged and exposed itself as a covert element of the UK government’s hostile environment policies. Children in care having to rely on others to submit applications for something that should be an automatic right is the harsh reality of current immigration policy. The government itself has ignored calls from MPs to fast-track children in care through the process, instead opting to place the responsibility on struggling local authorities.

It is also unjust that local authorities have been encouraged by the government to place children in care on this immigration track. Evidence has shown that for children of EU nationals in care, most, if not all, could have the rights to citizenship. Instead, the children who actually have applications submitted are placed on a scheme that would offer them nowhere near the same number of rights and entitlements.

It is vital that this group of children are given the opportunity to gain the citizenship that they are entitled to. Children born in the UK, who have parents with settled status, or have lived the first 10 years of their life there, have the right to register to be a citizen. The Home Secretary also has a discretionary power to grant any child citizenship when it is evident that their future lies in the UK, like if they are taken into the care system for example. 

In most cases, children in care are not taken down this pathway due to extortionate citizenship fees. For each application, local authorities have to pay £1000, £640 of which is direct profit to the Home Office. In addition, the lack of required parental information that could result in failed applications prevents local authorities from submitting them in the first place. Due to current laws, if children in care are not put on the citizenship pathway before the age of 18, they will lose their right to citizenship when they reach this age. 

The system that children in care are subject to is obviously rigged against them, and is designed to work against their best interests. The recent apologies for the Windrush scandal seem empty when it becomes clear that the government in setting up another generation of immigrants to be subject to the same injustices. It is vital that local authorities are pressured to ensure that all eligible children in care have their applications submitted for the EU Settlement Scheme. However, it is equally important that the government is pressured to change the law, and give migrant children in care the lifelong right to apply for citizenship. 

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