As it stands, the United Kingdom is going to leave the European Union on the 29th March 2019.
Generally speaking, social workers are pretty good at assessing increasingly risky situations and more than ever, Brexit uncertainty hangs heavy in the air. With that in mind, grab a cuppa and we’ll get down to reflecting on our departure from the Bloc.
As we speak, the societal fabric for more than 3.5 million citizens living in the UK is changing. As social workers, we are responsible for getting some of the most disenfranchised of these citizens through this journey. It is not a temporary thing. Brexit will soak into everything, for generations to come – and the UK’s most vulnerable citizens are more at risk from experiencing these effects as destructive.
I hear you. We are so busy, with urgent and desperate casework on our hands. We are also responsible for promoting whatever social justice looks like, for the kids and their families. There are children, born here, who won’t get to be citizens later in life if their status is not resolved. That would be very unjust.
The Immigration and Social Security Bill (EU Withdrawal), designed to repeal ‘free movement’ and frame future migration arrangements, will pass to the House of Lords by the 7th March 2019.
If we get that Brexit deal everyone’s on about, then those freedoms stay roughly in place, with a route towards permanent citizenship open until the end of December 2020. We would have a (limited) time to normalise a routine of promoting settlement outcomes early on. Even so, EU citizens may find that getting that settlement isn’t straightforward. Reports of obstacles to using the Home Office app include limited access for iPhone users. You currently have to pay an application fee upfront and wait for reimbursement, whilst some citizens resident for decades are appealing rejections. These are stresses which our families in particular could probably do without.
Without a deal, 3.5 or so million EU citizens (assuming they wish to remain in the UK) can apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain for up to 36 months. Then, they face further applications for a completely different immigration status, in development for the 1st January 2021 onwards.
In this reactive era of ‘social-workers-as-firefighters’ there are enormous pressures on us simply to keep children and families safe. Because we are human, sorting out passports or chasing applications made to government departments are tasks which slip further down hastily written lists. The current climate isn’t exactly awash with youth workers, advocates or ‘early years’ professionals able to support preventative plans. Decoding family needs, gathering their stories, achieving consensus – it all means taking the time and building the trust.
On top of challenges in our own sector sits a fog of public confusion about Brexit. People are unsure how to house, and employ EU citizens. It isn’t hard to imagine how such uncertainty and mistrust will lend itself ultimately to ‘computer says no’ types of obstacles in our path.
Non-EU care leavers have been through time in our protection without their immigration status resolved. Some have encountered legal challenges upon maturing, and some have faced deportation as adults. This need not have happened. As we subject hundreds of thousands of EU children to an already deeply flawed culture of domestic immigration, echoes from the Windrush Generation whisper their warnings.
Social workers can’t solve it all. We can though, honour our obligations to the social justice needs of our fellow EU citizens by building this one thought into our daily practice- that very soon, the automatic right to live, work and study in Britain is going to be removed from some of the children we care about. With that in mind, we can only be vigilant, get creative and try our best.
Never mind Brexit, that’s just social work.
Emma Taylor is a social worker for Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB).