June 30th 2021 marks the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who were resident in the UK before the end of 2020 are required to apply under the EUSS to retain their right to reside. The EUSS is the largest administrative exercise on immigration in the Home Office’s history.
Over 5 million applications have been made, including over a quarter of a million applications from people in Scotland where more than 240,000 have been granted settled, or pre-settled, status. Time will tell how many have missed the boat, with some experts predicting that it is the more vulnerable who are less likely to have made an application.
The Scottish Government, among others, has argued that to minimise the number of people at risk of losing their residence rights, EU nationals rights should be automatically retained. This would make any registration of EU nationals lawfully resident before Brexit purely declaratory. Indeed, the 2021 May election saw an SNP manifesto that included this proposal alongside calls on the UK government to end restrictions on work for asylum seekers, to lift harmful applications of the no recourse to public funds rule, to review family migration and to devolve migration policy to Scotland.
The prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence is an issue that dominated the May 2021 election. The SNP has clearly stated its view that the election results provide a mandate for a second vote. Whether or not this materialises, the trade-offs and challenges that migration poses for an independent Scotland are now strikingly different than in 2014. The UK leaving the EU changes the landscape in which an independent Scotland would operate. It provides less scope for immigration systems that are broadly congruent within a shared framework of European Union and Common Travel Area (CTA) membership.
As I discussed in my contribution to Scotland’s New Choice, post-Brexit it is harder to see how an open Anglo-Scottish border can be aligned with re-joining the EU - especially if the rules on entry and stay for migrants diverge more sharply between jurisdictions. The CTA has a history of adaptability and there may well be new solutions yet to be developed that support the maintenance of free travel across these Isles without the need for at-border checks. Nonetheless, while Brexit may have revived the impetus for a Scottish independence referendum, it has, at the same time, complicated the vision of Scottish independence. With the SNP having laid out their roadmap to a referendum, it is now incumbent on them to clarify how they propose to manage these questions ahead and the choices involved.
Dr Sarah Kyambi
Director, Migration Policy Scotland