Time is running out for EU nationals working in public services in the UK to apply for settled status – the ability to continue to live and work in this country.
But the COVID-19 lockdown has prevented many of them from making their application – not least because of the closure of libraries, with the crucial facilities they offer.
That’s why UNISON is calling on the Westminster government to extend the deadline for applications to the settled status scheme, past the current deadline of June 2021.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said today: “UNISON believes that EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK should have been given a guaranteed right to remain.
“With immigration services under strain during COVID-19 and a deadline for a settled status application fast approaching, the government must at least extend the deadline.”
Ms McAnea added: “Without urgent action, there is a real danger that we let people slip through the safety net. Many are key workers on the COVID-19 frontline and deserve all the support and help we can give – and not be made undocumented overnight.”
UNISON Cymru Wales has launched a settled status campaign web page that allows members across the union to add their voices to the pressure on government by emailing their MPs.
The region has repeatedly underlined the contribution of EU workers to Welsh public services.
UNISON Cymru/Wales regional manager Bethan Thomas said: “During COVID-19, a number of the measures put in place to support workers with the settled status application process were withdrawn. Some, including access to scanners and computers in public libraries, continue to be inaccessible to EU workers.
“Many of those who have yet to apply for settled status will have limited or no access to the wholly online application system, or will experience significant financial hardship doing so.
“These workers have been at the heart of the response to COVID-19 and deserve to have their rights protected.”
The struggle to apply during the pandemic
Chiara Caserotti, an Italian-born key worker, said: “I was lucky to secure settled status just before the COVID-19 outbreak. As an essential worker, I would have struggled to make headspace for an application during the pandemic.
“For many EU key workers, their priority has been ensuring the vital services they are responsible for do not stop because of COVID. Now they face the real possibility of not being able to make an application for settled status in time – and not being able to stay in the UK past June.
“This would be a travesty, as many have literally kept the country going at a time of national crisis.”
She added: “It is also demoralising that, instead of recognising the positive contributions we make to the UK, this government is offering financial incentives to actively encourage EU nationals to go back to their country of origin.”
Manuela Hughes, a German-born school support worker in Pembrokeshire, said: “EU nationals employed in Welsh public services, in schools, the NHS, the care sector and elsewhere, have really put our shoulder to the wheel during the pandemic and helped keep Wales running.
“Our livelihoods and families are here. We must be allowed more time to apply for the settled status to which we’re entitled. And that’s why we are calling on MPs to extend the deadline.”