Thousands of children with EU citizenship could fall through the cracks of the UK’s registration system after Brexit, according to a UK charity.
The Coram Children’s Legal Centre released a report on Monday pointing to issues that might arise for children and young people in relation to the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be fully rolled out by the end of the month.
The scheme is designed to register around 3.5 million citizens in the UK from the EU’s 27 countries.
They must apply online for “settled status” if they have lived in the UK for at least five years, or “pre-settled status” if they haven’t reached that threshold. The application is free.
Anyone who fails to apply or is denied status by June 2021 if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, or December 2020 of it leaves without, will become undocumented.
The government and Prime Minister Theresa May have repeatedly assured EU citizens they will be able to continue living and working in the UK after Brexit.
But rights groups have raised concerns that should even a fraction of applications go wrong, given the scale of the task, it could result in thousands of people living in the UK becoming undocumented two years down the line.
Among the vulnerable groups, says Coram, are unaccompanied children and young adults who have grown up in UK care homes or foster care, as well as children from disadvantaged families.
Children separated from one of their parents are also at risk.
“The Home Office from the start hasn’t recognised the complexity of the lives that are going to be interrupted by the scheme,” Marianne Lagrue, a policy manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre and co-author of the report, told Al Jazeera.
“For people who are working, it’s very straightforward. Everything is almost automatic. But for anyone whose life falls outside that straightforward pattern, it gets quite complicated quite quickly,” she added.
According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, there are an estimated 900,000 children of EU-born parents living in the UK, excluding Irish citizens. About 239,000 of them were born in the UK but do not have an automatic right to British citizenship.
The Home Office, the government department in charge of migration and security, hasestimated there are approximately 5,000 EU children in care in the UK, not including care leavers.
The government has been running pilots of the EU settlement scheme since August 2018 with universities and other private and health institutions. The final test phase was opened to the public at the end of January.