30 December 2016, The Guardian.
Little-known health insurance requirement risks disqualifying EU citizens such as carers and students from UK residency.
Ministers should scrap strict immigration rules that risk disqualifying EU citizens such as stay-at-home parents and students from securing permanent residency in the UK if they have not taken out private health insurance, according to a backbench Tory MP.
Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, said she would be supporting a petition that calls for the removal of the little-known requirement, after several EU citizens applied to the Home Office post-Brexit and discovered they should have obtained health insurance when not working.
The MP said a new “simple, efficient and rapid” immigration registration process for the 3 million EU citizens in the UK was needed as soon as possible to end the “bureaucratic nightmare” they faced.
She added it was “completely unacceptable” that EU citizens living in the UK were being left in limbo, and said their situation, and that of Britons in Europe, should be the “number one priority” in Brexit negotiations after Theresa May triggers article 50.
The petition backed by Wollaston was launched by the EU citizen Claudia Holmes and has so far been signed by more than 5,000 people. It also calls for an automatic right to remain for all spouses and civil partners of Britons and of UK servicemen and women.
The petition calls for the removal of “comprehensive sickness insurance as permanent residency requirement for EU/European Economic Area students, homemakers, carers, retired, and disabled people or applicants self-sufficient through other income, including their non-EEA spouses/civil partners”.
EU citizens are currently entitled to live in the UK under European law, but once the UK leaves Europe, almost all rights apart from the right to own property or a business, which are protected under international law, will need to be reasserted.
The Home Office has repeatedly said since the referendum that the status of EU citizens living in the UK has not changed, and Theresa May says she is keen to clarify their long-term residency rights at the same time as negotiating with the EU over the rights of UK citizens living in the other 27 member states.
Despite that, the Home Office has been inundated with applications for permanent residency from EU citizens who fear that their rights may otherwise be eroded. The latest figures available show that more than 100,000 cases are currently being processed.
Wollaston said the Home Office needed to come up with a new system for handling applications. “They need to have something that is very quick, efficient and low cost. It is completely untenable that [the current permanent residency process for non-EU citizens] could be the process that would be in place for EU citizens.
“It has to be something simple, rapid in place and that’s before you get to the morality of it. There are real people being caught up in this. It is totally unacceptable. This is something they are not in any way to blame for and it is up to politicians to put themselves in people’s shoes and see the anxiety it is causing and do something about it.”
He was told by the Home Office that his wife, originally from the Netherlands, would have to leave the country and apply for permission to live in the UK from abroad even though she has spent the past 30 years in the UK, bringing up their children, studying and working freelance.
Wollaston said no one expected the man’s wife to be kicked out of the country, but thousands of EU citizens panicked into applying for permanent residency were being made to feel like second-class citizens.
About 30% of the current applications for permanent residency are failing and the Guardian has already uncovered several instances of EU citizens married to Britons who are being failed for simple bureaucratic reasons.
Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that the Dutch-born software developer Monique Hawkins, who has been in the country for 24 years, had been told to make preparations to leave the UK because her application process failed after she included a solicitor-certified copy of her Dutch passport with her paperwork instead of an original.