Settled status: UNISON can help

Around 80,000 UNISON members are expected to be affected by the EU settlement scheme: What is it and how can your union help?

After the EU referendum, the government decided to introduce a new immigration status for EU citizens called ‘settled status’. What does this mean?

People who are citizens or have a passport of a European Union member state, or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, and are in the UK by the 31 December 2020, are required to apply (along with family members) to the EU settlement scheme to continue living and working in the UK after 30 June 2021.

The Home Office campaign does not cover the full range of citizens who can apply under the scheme. The messaging is centred on “white” EU/EEA/Swiss citizens and some family members.

Many overseas citizens in the UK do not identify as an EU/EEA and Swiss national because they are from another country, have dual nationality and are a passport holder of one of the EU/EEA country and/or Switzerland.

Some might not realise yet that their stay in the UK is conditional on the status of their EU/EEA /Swiss family member(s) and they too must acquire status to remain in the UK.

UNISON assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie said: “UNISON will carry on campaigning with, and on behalf of, our European members and their families to retain their existing rights post Brexit.

“This government has already broken the promises they made to Europeans citizens and non-EU family members during the 2016 referendum campaign, by not granting them automatic indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

“Instead, our members, who already contribute so much by keeping afloat our public services, now have to apply to stay in a country they already call home.”

UNISON member and charity worker Natalia Byer is Polish and has just received her settled status. Yet this hasn’t offered her much peace of mind.

“My son is half-Polish, half-British,” she says. “So he and my husband are fine, it’s just me. My worry for a long time has been whether we are going to be separated, and whether I will have to go back to Poland?

“I also still have a family in Poland which I visit regularly, and I still want my mum to be able to come and visit me without any extra hurdles.”

Natalia describes the overt discrimination she’s experienced recently: “Before the referendum, I’d never been directly singled out and nothing was said to me. I’m Polish. There were some inequalities that I experienced when I was working in care, where I experienced different conditions as a migrant worker to those of British workers.

“But now when I talk to people, I catch myself thinking: ‘did that person vote for Brexit? Did that person think something of my accent, or that I’m Polish?’”

Housing officer and UNISON activist Olfa Atig Bensalah shares a similar anxiety. “All my life has changed,” she says. “Me and my husband have been following the news every day. Every morning my husband would update me, every evening when we have dinner we talk about Brexit and the elections.

“Our life has changed radically, although we are settled here and have jobs, we still feel insecure, but I still feel insecure. We are going to travel during Christmas and I don’t know if I will be let back in later, and will there be a huge queue?”

Olfa is married to a Greek man, and they came to the UK from Greece in 2013 after the rise of the far-right movement Golden Dawn. She describes a recent incident: “I was talking to my mum in French and someone shouted “Here it’s England! We don’t want Europeans anymore” and I thought, “I’ve lived this before. If I speak French or a different language people react. People are encouraged by Brexit to speak openly in a racist way.”

Olfa is doing all she can as an international officer for UNISON’s Leicester City branch, and is pushing for solidarity between UK nationals and migrants.

“We need to stick together and be together,” she says. “One person alone doesn’t do anything. British people must remember: European people are your colleagues, neighbours and friends. The laws might have changed but people are still the same. Stand with us.”

The EU Settled Status Scheme is open to:

  • UK residents from EU/EEA countries and Switzerland
  • Non EU/EEA/ Swiss citizens who are certain family members of the above people can apply if they can provide evidence of their relationship to an EU/EEA citizen. To verify your eligibility, check the government website
  • Family members of Irish citizens from outside the UK and Ireland
  • Even if you have previously had a document from the Home Office, such as a Registration Certificate or were registered under the Workers Registration Scheme you must apply
  • If you have an EU/EEA/Swiss Permanent Resident document you must apply too because this status has been issued under EU Law and will become invalid after 31 December 2020. However, it will count as evidence of residence during your settled status application.
  • If you are a long term resident, and have a valid Indefinite Leave to Remain status, this will entitle you to remain and you do not need to apply. However, depending on your individual circumstances, it may be beneficial for you to do so. You will need to obtain specialist advice on this before deciding which the best choice is for you. Either way it is likely you will need to acquire up to date and valid evidence of your status from the Home Office. It is recommended that you make sure you have valid proof of your status Indefinite Leave to Remain status. 

UNISON stands for the rights of all our members regardless of nationality or immigration status, and has been the leading trade union campaigning to protect the existing rights of EU citizens in the UK, representing our 80,000-plus EU members and their families.

Settled status will undoubtedly raise concerns for EU members and their families. UNISON has produced an information leaflet on the Settlement Scheme for our EU members. Branches are encouraged to print it out and distribute among members.

UNISON has also produced guidance for branches to support and organise around EU settled status and a template letter to negotiate with employers support to their migrant workforce. Find out more.