EU citizens living in the UK have expressed panic and confusion after it emerged new regulations brought in by the government allow the Home Office to remove some of them from the country if they do not have a comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI).
A briefing published by a lawyer revealed that the Home Office acquired controversial new enforcement powers against EU citizens from 1 February. It warns those EU citizens who are not considered to have a "right of residence", including some students and spouses of UK citizens, and who do not have CSI, could be deported or refused entry back into the UK if they leave.
The majority of EU nationals living in the UK are entitled to use the National Health Service (NHS), meaning many do not have the suddenly all-important insurance.
The briefing provoked a wave of panic from European nationals residing in the UK. Dozens of people posted comments on a link to the article shared on a Facebook page for the campaign group, the 3 Million.
“I’m scared," one person said simply, while another expressed confusion, saying: “It raises more questions than answers."[arve url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFr8h1YX_Ek"/]
Among those expressing concern were a number of European mature students studying in the UK, as well as spouses of British citizens who are not in work, all of whom are at risk of being removed from the country under the new regulations.
The lawyer who wrote the briefing, Colin Yeo of Garden Court Chambers in London, said he believed the changes would not have as serious an impact as feared, but that the Home Office was being “careless” in granting itself such powers in the updated regulations.
He accused the Home Office of causing “unnecessary panic” to EU citizens. “I don’t actually think the Home Office is going to enforce this against say, the French wife of a British citizen. I think they’re using it against people they don’t like, like Polish rough sleepers,” he said.
“The position of a Polish homeless person who hasn’t committed any criminal offences or claimed public funds is exactly the same as the wife of a British banker but doesn’t have CSI, according to the regulations. They’re both equally removable as far as the Home Office is concerned,” he added.
Nicolas Hatton, founder of the Facebook campaign group, 3 Million, told the Independent the unannounced changes and the wave of anxiety that had followed was a “dangerous” sign about the Government's approach to the rights of EU citizens.[arve url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMBym9chuwg"/]
“Theresa May has got no credibility among EU citizens, because she’s using us as bargaining chips and she’s not considering the human life behind the numbers. She’s just seeing three million people as one big number with which she can negotiate Brexit.”
It comes amid reports that British Prime Minister Theresa May is to end rights given to EU nationals under freedom of movement rules when she triggers Article 50 next month, which would establish a “cut-off date” of around 15 March after which EU citizens would not be entitled to live in the UK permanently.
It is unclear if the Government’s plan would be a breach of the EU treaties that guarantee freedom of movement.
Under the plan, the 3.6 million EU citizens who are already in Britain and others who come before that date would have their rights protected, providing the EU agreed to the same status for UK citizens living in the EU.