Nicola Sturgeon has said her government is “stepping up efforts” to support EU citizens in Scotland with fresh funding for groups providing legal support.
The First Minister said EU nationals had been treated “appallingly” since the UK-wide Brexit vote in 2016 and said she had “profound concerns” about the UK Government’s EU settlement scheme.
Under the scheme, European citizens in the UK can either be granted settled status, pre-settled status for those with less than five years’ continuous residence in the UK, or have their application rejected.
The Scottish Government’s ‘Stay in Scotland’ campaign to support EU nationals has already received more than £570,000 in funding.
Speaking at an event in Edinburgh on Monday, Sturgeon further announced an extra £10,000 for Citizens Advice Scotland to expand legal support for those with more complex cases applying to the EU settlement scheme.
She also revealed £7000 would be given to human rights legal centre JustRight Scotland for the purpose of drawing up guidance for EU nationals on their rights to vote and their access to healthcare, education, housing and benefits.
The First Minister said: “It’s vitally important to offer this support – practical support but also moral support.
“EU nationals have been treated appallingly ever since the Brexit vote.
“So, the message from the Scottish Government is you are welcome here, this is your home, you make a massive contribution for which we are really grateful and we want you to stay in Scotland.
“We want to offer the help to you to navigate your way through the settled status application.
“We wish you didn’t have to make those applications to retain rights you already have but we want to make that as easy and painless as possible.”
She said she had “profound” issues with the scheme “both in principle and practice”, adding: “There’s a real moral objection that I share but there are also practical concerns.
“I hope none of this comes to pass and I certainly hope the UK Government is working hard to make sure it doesn’t come to pass.
“But people look at the Windrush scandal, they think about the hostile environment around immigration that the UK Government has created, they think about the general rhetoric about immigration and it’s not surprising they feel nervous and uncertain about this process.”
It comes as new research by campaign group the3million has suggested more than one in ten EU citizens in the UK have been wrongly asked to provide proof of settled status while seeking housing, employment, education, banking services and other vital services.
Proof of settlement is not yet required to be produced until after the UK leaves the EU, and European citizens have until June 2021 to apply to the scheme.
Ministers have also been criticised for refusing to provide physical documents to EU nationals on their status once their application has been processed, opting only to provide digital versions.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We value the contribution EU citizens make to our country and we want them to stay.
“The EU settlement scheme is working – over 2.5 million people have been granted a secure digital status so far – guaranteeing their rights in UK law.
“This digital status future-proofs their rights and is linked to their passport or ID card, replacing physical documents which can get lost, stolen, damaged, tampered with and expire.”