A second Windrush scandal is inevitable if thousands of children in care are not automatically given settled status by the government, an MP has warned.
Labour’s Steve McCabe, who chairs a cross-party group on looked-after children, has urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to spare at least 9,000 children the “administrative nightmare” of trying to prove they have the right to stay in the UK.
Under the government’s new immigration plans, millions of EU citizens have just over a 12 months to ensure they have the right paperwork to stay in the UK – or face losing key rights.
Yet for those children in the care sector, finding documents such as birth certificates and passports could prove extremely difficult – and to date just 11% of these youngsters have secured ‘settled status’.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, McCabe called on Patel to “consider a blanket approval for these vulnerable children, and spare us all an administrative nightmare and a second Windrush?”
The Home Secretary replied: “When it comes to EU settled status, we are working with local authorities to give them the support that they need.
“I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and all hon. and right hon. Members across the House, will continue to work in a constructive manner in their constituencies to ensure that children are granted the settled status that they are due.”
Speaking to ICYMI News, McCabe criticised Patel’s “poor answer”, saying: “Either she’s not across it or not terribly interested.”
The Birmingham Selly Oak MP warned that expecting local councils to put forward the applications on behalf of the vulnerable youngsters was simply adding more work on to already stretched services.
He said: “Anyone who knows anything about children’s social work knows workers are not experts in immigration law.
“They are under the cosh at the moment. Life was pretty grim without the coronavirus and soon all the attention is going to be focused on vulnerable children who have been hidden from view because of the lock down.
“Believing local authorities are going to have the time, expertises or resources to divert attention to this is quite frankly fanciful.”
In January, the Government said that children who do not have an application submitted on their behalf by the deadline of June 30 2021 can submit a “late application”.
This pledge was reiterated by Patel in a letter to the Home Affairs select committee in April.
However, the Children’s Society called for this promise to be made in the Commons in order to give it greater force.
In a policy briefing document produced by the charity, it said: “We urge the Home Office to commit to this policy change within a ministerial statement. Furthermore, even a short period of living undocumented, between when the deadline ends and the young person makes an out-of-time application, could be devastating.
“As corporate parents to these young people, authorities need to be acting in a way that any good parent would and be thinking about children’s security and life chances, including ensuring their immigration and citizenship status.”
McCabe was keen to stress his argument – and that of his cross-party committee – was not about the merits or otherwise of the new immigration system, but “about a very small group of children who have already been identified as vulnerable.”
He added: “The notion that giving them settled status will fundamentally impact our immigration policy is wrong.”
Drawing comparisons with the Windrush scandal, which saw people with the right to live in the UK wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and in more than 80 cases deported, McCabe said: “What I predict will happen is that several of these children will reach 18 with no settled status and won’t be able to get employment, won’t get benefits, won’t get a place to live.”
He went on: “The conclusion people will then come to is that the government is lacking in compassion.”