Four years ago the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Leave campaigners before and the UK government after the referendum reiterated that for EU-27 nationals living in the UK there would be no change. That they would be able to continue to live their lives in the UK once it had left the EU, writes Marianne Kaufmann.
I did not at the time believe any of these empty promises and immediately started the process of applying for British citizenship. Having lived and worked in the UK since 1992, I was naïve in thinking this process would be easy. It turned out to be long, drawn out and expensive and one of the most anxious and stressful periods of my life.
Applying for citizenship could only be done after obtaining a residency card (documenting legal residency in the UK), which as a citizen from an EEA (European Economic Area) country you obtain after living and working in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years. During the process of application, I was first surprised, then shocked, to find out that apparently people applying for residency need to show proof of Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI) for the entire period. Never having heard of this despite having lived here for 22 years, I decided to consult a solicitor specialising in immigration who helped and guided me through the application process. Apparently the CSI was only required for those who were studying in the UK, or who were self-sufficient, so it didn’t apply to my case – though this was not at all clear from the form that I was trying to complete.
CSI is a legal requirement that derived from the EU’s Free Movement Directive (2004). However, while all other EU countries have insurance-based health systems, the NHS in the UK is financed through taxation; it is and has always been accessible and free at the point of use. At no point was it explained to EU nationals that some of them (namely those who were students, or self-sufficient) needed CSI. Theresa May wrote to all EU nationals living in the UK in October 2017 telling them that people applying to the new Settlement Scheme would ‘no longer have to demonstrate Comprehensive Sickness Insurance.’ In June 2018 the Home Office’s ‘EU Settlement Scheme: Statement of Intent’ confirmed the removal of this unfair and obscure requirement.
Clarification and obfuscation
However, the recent clarification by the Home Office (15 May 2020) in its guidance reiterates the need for CSI and allows caseworkers to exercise discretion.
This is unacceptable and creates untold anxiety for those citizens who happen to have moved here from other EU countries and who have made this country their home.
In my own case, I was successful with my application for British citizenship which was granted in August 2017, though I found it a brutal and scarring process. I applied for citizenship early because I expected the worst from a Conservative government that was moving ever further to the right.
It is unfair to now reject applications for British citizenship on grounds of lack of CSI, when this requirement has never been communicated to EU nationals living in the UK, and when assurances were given by both Theresa May and the Home Office that CSI was no longer a requirement for being granted settled status.
The immigration bill is currently making its way through Parliament. It was approved at third reading in the Commons on 30th June 2020, and is now awaiting approval from the Lords.
Although Brexit has already happened, it is still a work in progress. It still creates untold anxiety for EU-27 Nationals who live here, with potentially devastating consequences if settled status cannot be obtained (because of the requirement for CSI) and as a result citizenship cannot be granted. It leaves those who are applying for British citizenship hanging by a thread, at the discretion of a caseworker who happens to be working on their file.
Those politicians and campaigners who promised that there would be no change for EU nationals living in the UK were lying – as they were about so many other things that are now finally coming to the surface.
Born in Northern Germany to a French mother and German father, Marianne Kaufmann has lived in Scotlanbd since 2004. “As a passionate European I was concerned by the plan for a UK referendum about EU membership, and appalled – though not surprised – at the result. I had been shocked to find out that I was not eligible to vote in it, and had started the process of applying for citizenship and residency before the referendum, gaining British citizenship in 2017.”