Businesses and public bodies have been warned by the Brexit rights regulator not to discriminate against EU citizens as the new post-Brexit immigration regime enters into force at midnight.
The warnings come as Home Office helplines for EU citizens applying for immigration were reported to be “jammed” by a last-minute surge in EU citizens applying to remain in the UK, and charity workers helping applicants said they were also struggling to get through to the specialist hotline reserved for advisers.
Applicants spoke of making multiple unsuccessful attempts to be get through; once connected, they described waits stretching to more than two hours to speak to a Home Office adviser.
The Independent Monitoring Authority, the statutory body set up to protect EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, issued a reminder to employers to heed the law amid reports that some workers were being threatened with the sack or being removed from housing waiting lists if they did not know the outcome of their application before 1 July.
“If EU citizens feel that their rights have been, or are likely to be, breached, they should complain directly to the public body concerned,” said Kathryn Chamberlain, chief executive of the IMA.
A top city law firm however has warned that the 59-page right-to-work guidance issued by the government two weeks ago is “so complicated” that life-changing mistakes could be made innocently by employer and employee. Under the guidance, employers are not required to do “retrospective” checks on EU citizens to ensure that they have a right to work after 1 July.
But Ian Robinson, partner at London immigration law firm Fragomen, said this could mean that those who have slipped under the radar suddenly find themselves losing a job when it finally emerges that they do not have the correct status.
“They may have arrived after 1 January this year and were told a European passport on day one of employment was enough for a right-to-work check and thought they were fine,” he said. “If an employer spots this, they will probably need to dismiss the employee and the employee would need to leave and try to get a skilled worker visa from their home country.”
Robinson, who used to work at the Home Office, also points out that these right-to-work checks only pertain for the remainder of 2021.
“From the beginning of next year, if an employer discovers a person doesn’t have status, they will probably have to dismiss them,” he said. “There is not an option to let them carry on working. That worries me and we are just kicking the problem down the road.”
Katie Good, an associate solicitor at Fragomen, said some clients could also fall through the cracks because they could not apply on time for technical reasons.
Charities said they were dealing with a particularly sharp rise in EU national parents rushing to apply for immigration status for children born in the UK, having not previously realised that this was necessary.
Advisers working for charities supporting EU citizens to secure EU settled status ahead of the deadline said many people had expressed alarm after belatedly realising that they needed to submit an application. Elderly people, people with mental health problems, vulnerable people with poor computer skills and children were among those attempting to make late applications, according to Kate Smart, chief executive of the charity Settled, a charity that offers advice to EU citizens in the UK.
A Home Office spokesperson said more than five million people had already been granted some form of status. “EU citizens who have submitted a valid application by 30 June will have their rights protected in law and will be issued with a certificate of application, which can be presented to employers and landlords and verified by our checking service,” they added.
The Home Office said there had been a rise in applications from under-18s because of recent targeted campaigning, and stressed that if a parent failed to apply on their behalf, they would be given a further opportunity to apply.