We are grateful for the opportunity we had on Wednesday, 18 January 2017, to give oral evidence in front of the Committee on Exiting the EU chaired by Hilary Benn MP.
We shared a panel with “The 3 million”, an organisation which campaigns to preserve the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe after Brexit, and we were asked about the current atmosphere of uncertainty and how is this affecting the lives and mental wellbeing of EU citizens, hate crime cases, Eastern European workers, freedom of movement after Brexit and the permanent residency process.
The Committee prompted an informed discussion on a few subjects strictly related to Eastern Europeans and their fate after Britain leaves the EU.
Firstly, we welcome the scrutiny regarding the permanent residency process and we thought it was very constructive.
Our casework on immigration advice suggests that the process currently in place is not very effective, the form is far too complex and requires too much evidence, especially in the case of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens who, because they gained full access to the work market only 3 years ago, require more documentation than other EU citizens.
Therefore, the application process is confusing for users, which often makes them seek help with unregulated advisors. Such advisers may have little or no knowledge of immigration law and practice and cannot be held to account by the OISC or any other regulator for their actions, or any money they have received. We would like to work with the government to put a stop on unregulated advice on immigration and we strongly believe that a simplified permanent residency application will definitely help with cracking down on illegal advisers.
The Committee also enquired on why do Eastern Europeans come to the UK. We are always eager to discuss this issue and combat the myth propagated by a part of the British media that people come here to abuse the welfare system.
From our experience with helping our users claim benefits when they were entitled to, we found out it is virtually impossible to claim an abundance of welfare payments, even when people are in very desperate situations.
As we stated many times before, the attraction of Britain is the ease with which people could set up businesses and be entrepreneurs, something that is not easy in EE countries. We find that welfare is not the first concern after Brexit, but the future of the small and medium business people own in the UK.
Furthermore, the Committee touched upon the subject of Eastern European workers and low wages. We argued that Eastern European workers don’t come here to lower the wages and weaken workers’ rights, but they are often found in a vulnerable position, because they don’t know their rights, they cannot speak English very well, or are destitute and afraid of losing their job.
This situation can only be tackled if there is better protection of workers’ rights in the UK, and the welfare and wellbeing of migrant workers will be treated equally as British workers. Our campaigning work last year was focused on employment rights, and we offered information, outreach surgeries, workshops and tailored advice.
We value such direct contact with our MPs and are happy to have expressed our concerns in front of the Committee. Many important changes will take place in the next 2 years, our main priority is to help our Eastern European fellow expats to cope with these changes and help them take the best decisions for their families, live as respected members of the communities and continue to lead a fulfilled life in the UK, if they chose to.