Brexit Has Triggered Britain’s Most Ambitious Migration Exercise Ever – By Yasmeen Serhan | The Atlantic

Brexit Has Triggered Britain’s Most Ambitious Migration Exercise Ever

The British government is preparing to absorb millions of EU citizens into its immigration system after Brexit. Some fear that it is a “crisis in waiting”.

Yasmeen Serhan | The Atlantic 

Rebecca Goodall first moved to Britain when she was 10, and lived in the country on and off before settling here permanently in 2010. She teaches real estate at a university about two hours north of London, has a child who was born and raised here, and speaks unaccented English — she has, she told me in frustration, a “bloody master’s degree”.

But until recently, Goodall didn’t know if she could still live here.

As a German citizen, Goodall is among the millions of European Union nationals living in the U.K. whose immigration status was thrown into doubt after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Under the bloc’s rules, EU nationals can freely live, work, and settle anywhere across its 28 member states. Putting an end to this free flow of migration from Europe was one of the central planks of the Brexit debate and, now that Britain is leaving, all EU nationals who wish to remain in the country indefinitely need to apply for a new post-Brexit migration designation, otherwise known as “settled status”.    

It won’t be easy, though. An estimated 3.5 million EU nationals are expected to apply for settled status over the next two years. It’s a massive undertaking — one of the largest and most ambitious migration exercises the British government has ever faced. It’s also, in the grand scheme of things, just one of a litany of bureaucratic challenges that London must address because of Brexit, from the seemingly minor, keeping food-supply chains going undisrupted, to the indisputably major, maintaining peace on the island of Ireland.

British Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, who is overseeing the rollout of the EU Settlement Scheme, assured EU nationals that the process for them to stay would be “easy and straightforward”, and would allow them to continue their lives more or less as they do now.

Still, some migration advocates fear that the sheer volume of applications could overwhelm the country’s ever-more antagonistic immigration regime — one that hasn’t exactly been known for its competence in recent years. Others worry that the most vulnerable EU nationals — such as the elderly, people with limited English, and even children — are at risk of being left behind.

When I first spoke with Goodall in January about her experience applying for settled status, she said she couldn’t help but feel nervous. “I’ve spent two and a half years stressing about this,” she told me by phone from her home in Derbyshire, in England’s East Midlands. “I feel like I’ve always been British, so to have to go through this process is emotionally demanding.”

Goodall first moved to the U.K. as a child with her family in 1990, and has lived here full-time since getting married in 2010. Speaking with her, you wouldn’t presume her to be anything but British — her unaccented English is only briefly betrayed when she switches into fluent German to talk to her mother.

Through her position as a senior lecturer teaching real-estate economics and valuation at Nottingham Trent University, she gained access to the EU Settlement Scheme test phase, which was open to EU citizens working in select academic, health, and social-care institutions. The test phase in which Goodall took part received 30,000 applications and resulted in 27,211 decisions, with the remaining still pending as of January 14.

Seventy percent received settled status. The rest were granted “pre-settled status”, a time-limited right to remain given to those who have lived in the country for less than the requisite five years. Those who receive pre-settled status must apply for settled status again once they have achieved the five-year requirement.

Though European passport holders could begin applying as part of a wider public test phase as of January 21, the scheme’s full launch isn’t scheduled until March 30, regardless of when Britain leaves the EU. At that point, it will be open to all EU nationals; which, for scale, is more than 20 times the number of applicants who took part in the test phases so far. EU nationals will have until June 2021 to apply, though if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, the deadline will be moved to the end of 2020.

In practice, the process is simple: Applicants must first verify their identity using the British government’s “EU Exit: ID Document Check” mobile application, which uses facial-recognition and biometric software to scan the user’s photo and passport. Once that part is done, they must then complete their application online by submitting their National Insurance number, which is used to verify their work history and residency in the country, and criminal history. The whole process is estimated to take up to 20 minutes, though some say it took less than half that time.

For Goodall, it wasn’t so simple. First, there was the issue of her phone: The mobile application only works on newer Android devices so far. Like nearly half of all people in the U.K., she didn’t have an Android, nor did she know someone who did. When she eventually managed to borrow a phone from a colleague, the mobile app’s scanning function didn’t work, prompting her to mail her passport to the Home Office, the government department overseeing the process, for a manual check.

After she submitted the rest of her information online, the system erroneously offered her pre-settled status because it recognized only two of the past five years she spent in the country — a lapse that Goodall surmised might have had to do with the gap in her employment history when she was on maternity leave. She had to submit additional proof of residence, such as utility bills and bank statements, to account for the missing years.

Goodall finally got the news that she was granted indefinite leave to remain in January, nearly two months after she began her application. She said the process overall was “broadly positive”, but a far cry from the ease and simplicity she had expected. “This scheme has been marketed like it’s going to be 99 percent easy for people,” she said. “It wasn’t easy for me. I would bet money that it’s not going to be easy for my mum.” Goodall’s mother, who is retired and disabled, also faced issues with the system, but after submitting additional documentation, she was granted indefinite leave to remain in early February.

“I’ve got a bloody master’s degree and a professional qualification, and I found all of this quite taxing,” Goodall said.

Alexandra Bulat, who applied in the same test phase, faced similar issues proving her time spent here. Like Goodall, the scheme didn’t recognize her years of continuous residency, despite having lived in Britain since 2012, when she emigrated from Romania to attend university. “As a student working mainly part-time, temporary, and short-term contracts, I didn’t ever earn enough to pay income tax,” she told me.

Ultimately, though, Bulat said the experience was easier and less onerous than applying for permanent residency. After submitting additional documentation, she received an email confirming that she had been granted indefinite leave to remain the next day. “It was surprisingly quick,” she said.

Taken alone, processing millions of people like Goodall and Bulat — each of whom will likely face his or her own issues with the application — is a bureaucratic nightmare. Still, it’s merely one illustration of just how complex an undertaking Brexit is for Britain. Across the government, the country is facing the challenges of extricating itself from a 45-year relationship with the EU, from forging its own trade agreements; to ensuring the flow of goods through its ports.

And with each of these challenges comes the added task of addressing their unintended consequences. What, for example, should EU nationals who don’t have an Android phone do to complete their application? Who will ensure that applicants such as the elderly and those who don’t speak English get the help they need?

In all, Goodall’s and Bulat’s experiences could be classified as success stories: They applied for settled status and, despite a few hiccups, ultimately achieved it. But if their experiences demonstrate just how difficult this process can be for EU citizens who have the documentation to prove that they’ve lived in the country continuously, they also show how impossible it can feel for those who don’t.

“This app is designed around a kind of stereotype of the ideal citizen: in work, contributing, present,” Maike Bohn, a co-founder of the3million, an advocacy group for EU citizens in the U.K., told me. “The people who will struggle are the people with intermittent records.”

Those who are self-employed or unemployed, stay-at-home parents, or elderly are among the groups that migration advocates like Bohn fear could be most at risk of falling through the cracks of this new system.

British Future, a London-based migration think tank, warned in a January report that even a 5 percent rejection rate would render as many as 175,000 people undocumented, a crisis tantamount to last year’s Windrush scandal, in which thousands of migrants – this time from Britain’s former colonies in the Caribbean – were erroneously targeted with deportation orders as a result of the government’s “hostile environment” policies to clamp down on unwanted immigration. Dozens were wrongly removed. The Home Office’s track record of being heavy handed — and, in some cases, even cruel — in its immigration verdicts has spurred deep-seated mistrust in the department.

The government has taken steps to assist EU citizens with the application. In addition to setting up an email alert system, to which at least 300,000 people have so far subscribed, according to a Home Office spokesperson, the government has allocated £9 million ($11.7 million) to support voluntary and community organizations assisting vulnerable applicants. In an effort to ease the process further, Prime Minister Theresa May announced in January that the government would scrap the scheme’s £65 ($85) application fee.

But for those doing outreach on the ground, these efforts alone aren’t enough. Cristina Tegolo, an outreach coordinator for the3million, told me that many communities, such as the Roma, of which there are an estimated 300,000 people in the U.K., still aren’t aware of what they need to apply for settled status, or that they need to apply at all.

“They know nothing,” she said. “They know probably that Brexit is going to change something, but they still do not know about the application. They hardly speak any English.”

Among the biggest challenges is ensuring that applicants have a valid form of identification, such as a passport, and enough time to apply for one if they don’t. Another is access to the necessary technology: Not everyone has an Android phone, or someone to borrow one from. And though the Home Office has set up at least 27 document-scanning centers across the country to address this issue, with plans to open more than 50 after the scheme launches at the end of March, some are easier to get to than others. As of this writing, there is only one center, in Edinburgh, for the whole of Scotland, an area roughly the size of South Carolina. The closest center for applicants living in Liverpool is 34 miles away.

When I asked Tegolo whether she was confident that everyone would be able to apply, she did little to hide her pessimism.

“It is a crisis in waiting,” she told me. “There are about 4,000 people that need to apply every day. The Home Office will be overwhelmed with applications.”

She paused, then added: “The system will collapse. This is what I think.”

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  • Clyde Duncan  On March 25, 2019 at 12:09 am

    ‘The BREXODUS is under way’: Meet the Brits leaving the UK

    Alix O’Neill | The Guardian

    In the year after the Brexit vote, 17,000 British people sought citizenship of another EU country – and many have since upped and left. Five ‘Brexiles’ explain why they’re starting a new life overseas

    Last month, after a decade of living in London, my husband and I packed up the contents of our two-bedroom flat and moved to France with our 15-month-old son.

    With another baby on the way, we’re renting an apartment in Toulouse while we look for a more permanent setup. Leaving friends and family behind, and getting to grips with a new culture and language, hasn’t been easy. But we have no plans to return to the UK.

    What sold us on France? The healthier work-life balance and excellent education system, plus the fact that we’re lucky enough to have jobs that allow us to work remotely. Ultimately, though, there was one factor that cemented our decision to emigrate: BREXIT.

    The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that net migration from the EU to Britain has slumped to a six-year low. Numerous sectors of the economy, from science and academia to the NHS, have been hit hard. And it’s not just that EU nationals are turning their backs on the UK – in the year after the referendum, 17,000 Brits sought citizenship of another EU country, according to figures collated from embassies. The Brexodus is fully under way.

    A common refrain among the Brexiles I speak to is that they no longer recognise the country they grew up in. Raised in Northern Ireland, I’ve always grappled with my national identity. I was born in west Belfast and have an Irish passport – yet until I moved across the UK border in Ireland to study at university, my cultural references were, by and large, British. I watched Gladiators on television and read The Famous Five. I bought pic’n’mix from Woolworths and wanted to be Anneka Rice.

    I saw enough of the fallout from the Troubles to realise from an early age the dangers of unchecked patriotism. So when I moved to London, I refused to dwell on historical grievances and embraced everything that was great about the UK. In the 2012 Olympics, I felt a surge of pride for my adopted homeland.

    Nearly three years after the EU referendum, I no longer feel the same connection. A French friend, whose children were born in London, moved her family to Dublin last summer. She felt increasingly uncomfortable about the rise in xenophobia – Home Office figures showed that hate crimes rose by a third from 2016-2017 – and wanted her daughters to be “raised European”. Many Irish friends have returned home, too, uneasy with “jokes” made by colleagues and acquaintances about the Irish famine, shocked by the ignorance of many of their English peers.

    Nationalism isn’t confined to the UK. Nearly half of young French voters backed the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, in the country’s 2017 general election. But aren’t we better off wading through this mess together? When my husband and I lived in London, we became good friends with a neighbour, a retired diplomat in his 80s. He had loved serving his country, including a stint in the USSR during the cold war. These days, he no longer identifies as British, but as a citizen of the world. He saw postwar Europe unite and remembers the devastation that led to the formation of the EU.

    In a world of increasing uncertainty, I WOULD TAKE A BUNCH OF BUREAUCRATS OVER GOING IT ALONE ANY DAY – even if that means uprooting. I spoke to four others who feel the same way.

    Pip Batty, 40, a communications consultant, originally from Leicester, moved to Georgia in November. She now works in Tbilisi as an English language teacher
    I never thought I’d move to Georgia. It was just a place I went to on holiday last year and thought was brilliant. It’s a beautiful country and the people are so welcoming. I’m half Greek, and had been learning Greek for five years with the intention of emigrating there someday. Then Brexit happened. Suddenly, it started to become more challenging: a potential employer in Greece, who had been happy to offer me work, asked, “You have a Greek passport, right?” When I told him I was born in England, he just said, “Oh.”

    In a country where the economy isn’t great and you have two people applying for the same job – one from Germany, where there’s freedom of movement and they know what’s going to happen in future, or a British person – you know who they are going to choose.

    After the referendum, I thought everyone had lost the plot. There are people I don’t speak to any more because I know how they voted and I’m furious with them. People who were aware of my plan to move to Greece, people whose children are dating foreign nationals, how could they vote for Brexit? They weren’t thinking about any generation apart from their own.

    I don’t want to say I’ll never come back to the UK because I will always be British

    Two years after the referendum, we’re an international laughing stock. IT IS HUMILIATING TO BE BRITISH. My students ask why we’ve done this. One Russian student said, “To us, it’s like you voted to make yourselves the Soviet Union. We lived through that. Why would you vote to isolate yourselves from everyone else, when you were the linchpin of this wonderful treaty?”

    After spending a few years living in Hungary, Spain and Russia, I moved back to the UK shortly before the 2016 referendum. I was really excited about being in cosmopolitan, international London. This was the UK I had grown up in, a country that had been proud of its multiculturalism, its ability to welcome people from different backgrounds. A few weeks later, it voted to leave and all that evaporated.

    Had the UK really always been such a tolerant place? Or was it just a bubble?
    I started to think about going back to Europe the next day. The fact that the Brexit debate centred so much on immigration made me uncomfortable. I grew up going to school with immigrants – my grandmother was an immigrant, many of my relatives are now immigrants elsewhere in the world. I’ve always thought of immigrants as some of the bravest, most honest and hardworking people I know.

    Our politicians’ words are a throwback to a time I thought we’d left behind. I wanted to move to a place where people go out on the streets and protest in their thousands, asking for more refugees.

    At the end of October last year, a woman was punched on a London train in the rush hour for speaking Spanish on her phone. It was barely reported in the UK, but in Barcelona it was headline news. It was the first thing people asked me about when I arrived.

    The classic image of British people in Spain is of them walking around topless, shouting English, with noisy wheelie bags and cans of beer. A Spanish friend said, “We put up with so much from British people when they come to our country, yet we can’t even have a private phone conversation on your metro without being attacked.”

    The reason more people don’t move from the UK is because they don’t speak languages. We see the rest of the world as a place to go on holiday for a week or two. In Germany, everyone grows up learning English – people border-hop, live in other countries and embrace a European identity. It saddens me to think that young people growing up in the UK now may never experience that. Will I ever return to the UK?

    The problems that led to Brexit are so deep-rooted I think it’s going to take another generation to sort them out. One day, I like to think that I will go back, but for the time being I’m glad to no longer be living in limbo. The moment I stepped on to that one-way plane, I felt huge relief. I’d disentangled myself from a very uncertain future.

    A bunch of my friends set up a Facebook group about moving to Berlin after the vote. There are plenty of opportunities there in fintech [financial technology], but not for the type of cancer research I do. So I started looking for postdoctoral positions in other countries. Ultimately, Toronto pipped Sweden to the post.

    The main things I worried about were access to funding, being able to ship chemical samples to mainland Europe and what would happen to my colleagues. Roughly a third are EU citizens. The institution I worked for has been supportive, but there’s a lot of anxiety. I empathise with people who are stockpiling their medications in the UK; I need antidepressants to function, myself.

    Mum is Sri Lankan and Dad’s a Geordie. I grew up in Hertfordshire and was usually the only non-white person in the room. You get used to it, but I definitely felt “other”. Moving to London for university was a revelation.

    Brexit has made me look at my country differently. I always wore a poppy for Remembrance Day and switched to a white one a few years ago. You could see it in my profile picture on the dating site OK Cupid and the comments I got were unbelievable. It does feel as if the language used has become more hostile. I don’t think it’s inherent racism; immigration has been scapegoated.

    If Brexit were stopped tomorrow, I wouldn’t come home. My contract in Toronto is for two years, with a possible extension to four, and I’m staying for the duration.

    I’m uneasy in the UK at the moment. Maybe the distance will help me process those feelings. The logistical nightmare that Brexit is going to be, both for individuals and the field in which I work, is one thing. But whatever caused it isn’t going to disappear if we have another referendum and it ends up 52:48 in the other direction.

    Irish-British software developer Chris Ward, 34, grew up in Corby, Northamptonshire, and lived in London before moving to Berlin with his husband, Josh

    We had been planning to live abroad at some point, but made the call on 24 June 2016. Josh and I were heavily involved in the remain campaign, turning our tiny flat into a hub on the day of the vote. At the time, I likened Brexit to the Scottish referendum, where everyone was panicking a few weeks beforehand but, when it came to it, Scotland voted for the safe option, the status quo.

    Afterwards, I went through a very unhealthy, spiteful stage that I’m not quite out of yet. I stopped speaking to people who voted leave. One was a close friend, and I regret that now, but I’m not sure how to get back in touch. Fellow campaigners went in a different direction. They thought they could stop Brexit and would say to me, “Why don’t you stay and fight?” But you can’t fight battles that can’t be won.

    Everyone keeps saying we don’t know what people voted for. Of course, we do: the main issue was immigration. I was born in Germany on a British army base and moved to the UK when I was seven. On my first day at school, the teacher mentioned my background and immediately there was this wave of xenophobia. So I always knew Britain had its populists, but I thought it had a liberal heart beating within.

    Berlin is my favourite city. It’s so liberal, diverse and cheap, and there are plenty of jobs in tech, so it was a natural choice. I’ve got Irish citizenship, as my grandparents were Irish, and my goal in the next few years is to become German. If Britain isn’t in the EU, I’ll have to surrender my citizenship and I am fine with that. We’re lucky – some of our friends here have only British passports and are worried that they will be told to go home.

    Germans have a rose-tinted view of the British as being wonderfully polite and nice. They are sad about Brexit, but have moved on. The UK banked on everyone going, “Don’t leave! We’re sorry we asked you to do the same thing every other country was doing!” Maybe now the politicians will realise the world is bigger than Great Britain.

    Brexit is the failure of the progressives, rather than the work of the hard right, and that’s what makes me sad. The left failed to challenge it and as a result, we’re leaving the world’s largest trading bloc. If Brexit has been good for anything, it has made people on the left realise how important it is to stand up for globalisation and cohesion.

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