The UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is causing significant problems for EU citizens currently living and working in Wales. Wales has the lowest rates of registration in the UK.
Only 41% of those eligible to apply for EUSS to stay in Wales after Brexit have done so. The rhetoric surrounding EU migration since the referendum has taken its toll on people’s emotional wellbeing, meaning they no longer feel welcome to live here.
The UK Government has proposed a £30,000 salary threshold for EU residents to qualify for a work visa after Brexit. This could damage the Welsh economy and leave Wales short of key health professionals, say Welsh employers.
The National Assembly for Wales’ External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, which focuses on the implications of Brexit for Wales, is today publishing a report looking at the impact of changes to ‘freedom of movement’ after Brexit. As well as the impact on services and employers, the Committee has looked at the effect on individual EU citizens currently living and working in Wales - there are currently an estimated 80,000.
The Committee heard evidence from a range of health professionals, employers and individuals who would be affected by the proposals to change the immigration system after Brexit.
Organisations representing employers and key workers including the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Nursing Wales, Airbus, Universities Wales, Wales TUC and the Arts Council for Wales have voiced serious concerns to the Committee. The UK Government’s proposals for EU citizens after Brexit are worrying for health services and businesses. Under the UK Government’s proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible under the proposed system with the £30,000 salary threshold, and the threshold would lead to a 57% reduction in EU immigration to Wales over 10 years.
EU Settlement Scheme – digital by default
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, it heard evidence from people directly affected by the changes to freedom of movement after Brexit.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was established by the UK Government because, in most cases, EU citizens living in the UK will no longer have a legal right to reside in the UK once it leaves the EU and free movement ends.
EU citizens living in the UK must register for the EUSS and Wales currently has the lowest rate of registration in the UK, currently only 41% of those eligible to apply have done so.
The Committee heard a number of concerns about the system to register. The UK Government has adopted a ‘digital by default’ approach and there have been issues with the technology. The current system only allows the use of Android phones or tablets, not iPhones.
£30,000 threshold - too high for Wales
The Welsh NHS Confederation, the membership body representing all NHS organisations in Wales, told the Committee that the proposals to include EU citizens in its £30,000 salary threshold for a visa would “exacerbate current staffing shortages”. It highlighted that 53% of EU NHS staff currently earn below that.
The Bevan Foundation highlighted that the average salary in Wales for full time workers is £26,000, significantly below the proposed threshold. Airbus, a large employer in Wales, added that the threshold is “too high for key sectors” which could have implications for many services and industries. They argued that the proposals from the UK Government could “leave gaps in the requirements of Wales which can’t be filled in the short term.”
The Committee believes that a salary threshold set at this level will not meet the needs and requirements of the Welsh economy. It is calling on the UK Government to lower the salary threshold requirements and is recommending that the Welsh Government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that the current proposed salary threshold is reduced.
The Committee heard evidence from people affected directly and how many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK following the EU referendum.
Some argued that the policy pursued by the UK Government since the referendum has exacerbated this. Several people said that some of the rhetoric relating to the issue of EU migration had hardened and described the toll that this had had on their emotional wellbeing, and that of friends and family members.
One participant emphasised that it is not simply an administrative process, but that real people are involved and that it was important to remember how the process affects them.
Michal Poreba from Swansea, an EU citizen originally from Poland, who gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, said:
“The EU settlement scheme and the UK Government's immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people's lives. Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Questions are asked why so few people have registered so far and how to increase the uptake. But what does it offer? Why would anybody apply? The facts are that the scheme significantly reduces the rights of the applicants. Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. It feels like an act of political self-harm. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same - You will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed. There is a big difference between a legal right and permission.”
Shortage Occupation List
Wales has specific needs. The Shortage Occupation List is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers (including EU nationals) to fill vacancies. The UK list is supplemented by a separate list for Scotland.
The majority of those who gave evidence to the Committee supported the creation of a Wales-specific Shortage Occupation List to meet the specific needs of Wales. The Committee is calling on the UK Government to establish this, which the Welsh Government would be able to amend according to Welsh needs.
David Rees AM
, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee said:
“We have significant concerns about the implications of Brexit on our workforce in Wales. The ending of freedom of movement will have consequences for business and our economy if we lose vital workers. What’s more worrying is the impact that the loss of EU citizens could have on our NHS. We rely on EU citizens who work as nurses and carers.
“We heard some very concerning and emotional evidence from EU citizens and their families living and working in Wales. We must not forget the human impact that the ending of freedom of movement will have.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to do all it can to get the UK Government to reduce its proposed salary threshold of £30,000 in order to better reflect average earnings here in Wales. Under these proposals almost two-thirds of EU workers currently in Wales would not be eligible to live here. This could mean that we would not be able to recruit key workers such as nurses and carers from abroad.
“The EU Settlement Scheme for those who already live and work in Wales is full of problems, with an online-only application process and limited access on smartphones, these problems must be addressed urgently.
“Wales’ economy has specific needs and changing demographics within Wales, including an ageing population, are likely to pose new challenges in the future. These challenges within the economy of Wales are likely to be exacerbated by an overly restrictive immigration regime after Brexit.
“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to show real leadership and send out a strong message that EU citizens are welcome, valued, and needed in Wales and we’re calling on the UK Government to rethink its proposals and take into account the needs of the Welsh economy and public services.”