Y Pwyllgor Materion Allanol a Deddfwriaeth Ychwanegol - Y Bumed Senedd
External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee - Fifth Senedd18/01/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Alun Davies MS|
|Dai Lloyd MS|
|David J. Rowlands MS|
|David Rees MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Huw Irranca-Davies MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Claire Thomas||Sefydliad Bevan|
|Madeleine Sumption||Yr Arsyllfa Fudo, Prifysgol Rhydychen|
|The Migration Observatory, Oxford University|
|Marley Morris||Sefydliad Ymchwil Polisi Cyhoeddus|
|Institute for Public Policy Research|
|Professor Jonathan Portes||King's College London|
|King's College London|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Fiddes||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 14:00.
Good afternoon, and can I welcome everyone to this afternoon's meeting of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Members will be aware that we are operating in a virtual mode due to the current circumstances for public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, as Chair, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health, but the public are able to view the meeting on Senedd.tv, and they are able to see both English and Welsh versions on that medium. Before we move on, we've not received any apologies this afternoon, and does any Member wish to declare an interest at this point in time?
Chair, just my standard declarations of the groups that I chair.
Thank you. For Members to be aware, and for our witnesses to be aware, if my broadband connection fails, and in the last week it has failed several times, we have agreed in the past that Alun Davies will act as temporary Chair in my absence, either until I am able to reconnect or the meeting comes to an end, whichever is the former.
With that in mind, I'd like to go on to item 2 on our agenda, which is a witness session on the changes to the freedom of movement and the implications for both EU citizens in Wales and, perhaps, Welsh citizens across in the EU as well. Can I welcome our witnesses? We have Marley Morris from the Institute for Public Policy Research, Claire Thomas from the Bevan Foundation, Madeleine Sumption from the Migration Observatory in Oxford University, and Professor Jonathan Portes from King’s College London. I welcome you all, and welcome some of you back as you have previously given evidence to the committee. I thank you for that, and I thank you for your time this afternoon.
If it's okay with you, we'll go straight into some questions, because what we're trying to understand at this point in time is clearly what progress or lack of progress has been made since we last spoke in relation to EU citizens and the status of EU citizens, and the progress on people becoming settled status or not, and a similar situation for citizens in the EU, and particularly highlighting that we don't allow opportunities to be missed and that people will fall through cracks as a consequence of us not considering this. So, I'll go over to Dai Lloyd first. Dai.
Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd, a chroeso i'r pedwar ohonoch chi i'r cyfarfod yma yn swyddogol. Ie, roedd gyda ni sesiwn dystiolaeth ar hyn yn ôl ym mis Mai 2019. Nawr, mae yna lot wedi newid ers mis Mai 2019. Rydyn ni wedi darganfod afiechyd byd-eang newydd, er enghraifft. Ond a allaf ddechrau efo cwestiwn cyffredinol i ddechrau, a holi i bob un ohonoch chi yn eich tro, yn eich barn chi sut mae'r cynllun preswylio’n sefydlog i ddinasyddion yr Undeb Ewropeaidd wedi datblygu ers i chi roi tystiolaeth inni yn ôl ym mis Mai 2019, neu ers mis Mai 2019 os nad oeddech chi yma ym mis Mai 2019? Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd eisiau dechrau. Jonathan Portes?
Thank you very much, Chair, and a warm welcome to all four of you to this meeting. Yes, we held an evidence session on this issue back in May 2019. Now, a great deal has changed since May 2019. We have discovered a new global pandemic, for example. But could I start with a general question first of all and ask each of you in turn, in your view how has the UK's EU settlement scheme progressed since you last gave evidence in May 2019, or since May 2019 if you weren't here at that particular point? I don't know who'd like to kick off. Jonathan Portes?
I'm going to go down the list as I can see it—
All right. Okay, then.
The order I can see is Jonathan Portes first, then we go to Marley, then Claire, and then Madeline, as that's the way I see them on the screen.
So, I think clearly the good news is absolutely that the—. Two pieces of really good news I'd say is that an awful lot of people have applied for settled status—more than 4 million—and the vast majority of them have been granted settled status. And what that shows clearly is that for the majority, perhaps even the vast majority of people eligible for settled status, the process is working. That is to say, they are applying and they are being granted settled status. So, that is, I think, really good news, and I think we should, for once, be nice about the Home Office and say that a lot of us—certainly Madeleine, Marley and I—all said before the scheme was announced, 'Look, you cannot do this on a business-as-usual basis; it will be an absolute disaster politically, bureaucratically, administratively and, most of all, in human terms. You have got to make this primarily online, user friendly, based on the data you already had and with a presumption of the burden of proof being on the Home Office not to give it, rather than vice versa'. Broadly, they've done that, and we should really be very pleased about that. That means that that disaster that could have happened is not going to happen. So, that is really good.
What are the issues? The fundamental issue—we don't know whether it's a problem—again was one that we all foresaw, which was that we do not know the size of the remaining problem or issue. We do not know how many people are, in fact, eligible. All we know is that the estimates that we and the Home Office made, based on the labour force survey/annual population survey data, ex ante, of how many people were eligible were wrong, you know, because not only have more people overall applied but there is this very substantial variation by nationality. So, more Bulgarians and Romanians have applied than were resident, according to the LFS. How many of that group and other groups are still eligible to apply, have not applied and ought to apply, we simply do not know.
What we assume, I think, based on both common sense and research done by Madeleine and co, and by others, is that those most vulnerable groups—young people, especially young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, older people, people with disabilities and so on—are going to be most likely to slip through the net, but we have no real idea at this point of the size of the problem. That really is a problem, I'm afraid, and it's difficult at this point to see how you solve it. But that's probably enough from me as a scene setter, so I'll pass on to colleagues.
Thank you. Marley.
Thank you. Apologies, I cut out there. Hopefully, my internet connection will stay stable throughout. I agree with Jonathan—I think there's been a really successful roll-out of the scheme, in the sense that around 4.5 million people have applied. About 4.3 million applications have been concluded, and the vast majority have either pre-settled or settled status, so that's really positive. The question is whether we know to what extent the other people who haven't yet applied will be able to in time. The deadline is coming up for the end of the grace period, at the end of June this year, and there are real concerns around missing vulnerable groups.
The one thing I'd just mention on top is that we know that around 40 per cent to 45 per cent of current concluded applications are pre-settled status, so there is a kind of ongoing issue with that particular status, first because we don't know necessarily how easy it's going to be for people to be able to translate that on to settled status in the long run, and there could be ongoing issues there, particularly if there are long absences outside the UK due to COVID. Secondly, the pre-settled status doesn't offer precisely the same rights as someone with settled status, particularly around the issue of benefits. Because we've got a real, major crisis at the moment—an economic crisis—and real issues around access to universal credit, those with pre-settled status could face real challenges accessing the benefits system in the months ahead.
Thank you. Claire.
Thank you. Obviously, I agree that it has been positive that the system has had so many applications, but, obviously, there are concerns around reaching those who are still left to apply. We know in Wales that we've had to move to more digital forms of communication. We saw before the pandemic that Wales was lagging behind the applications made, compared to England. There was a real effort, I think, to reach EU migrants in a way that hadn't been done before, and I think those physical meetings were a real opportunity to engage with EU migrants. And also, the system still assumes that people do live quite neat lives. So, those physical meetings—and I sat in on many of those—were an opportunity to engage with people around their application, which sometimes had a lot of complexities to it. So, I think there are concerns up until June how are organisations going to reach those people who are not aware of the process, and who are most vulnerable. So, I think there are concerns over the next couple of months around that lack of physical engagement, and I think beyond as well, because what happens after June when people haven't applied? What support will be in place for those after that date?
In terms of pre-settled status, there is a concern around access to benefits. We've seen in Wales that some people have been referred to social services prevention teams, and they're only being able to access some discretionary assistance fund payments, and you can see them falling into longer term hardship. So, I think that is an ongoing situation around pre-settled status, and people who I've spoken to have said that they've got no real reminder of when to apply for settled status; some of them are hoping that they will remember. So, I think there needs to be ongoing communication around that issue.
Thank you, Claire, and Madeleine.
I agree with everything that's been said there. I think, from a policy perspective, the fact that we don't know how many people are yet to apply does have some important implications. So, policy makers are going to have to proceed on the basis of uncertainty. We know that the number of people who haven't applied isn't going to be zero; there will be people who have slipped through the cracks, and so the next step, really, is just thinking about what happens to those people. Currently, it's actually not clear what the process is going to be for someone, particularly if they don't have the kind of thing that the Home Office has traditionally considered to be a compelling reason for not having made an application.
There is one area where we actually did get some data on a vulnerable group and their application rates, and this was a data-gathering exercise that the Home Office very helpfully put together, looking at children in care and care leavers; this was last year. And one of the striking things from that was, in this one area where they did try to construct an estimate of how many people had applied, it wasn't that many; it was really only around half of the children in care and care leavers. They're going to repeat that exercise again this year and, hopefully, the numbers will have improved. But, certainly, I think, for some of those vulnerable groups, it does suggest that there's some cause for concern.
The other issue that I would bring up that I think is a challenge for the next five years and is going to be really important—it's not had a lot of attention now; I think probably not as much as it deserves—is this issue that Claire and Marley mentioned about the conversion from pre-settled status to settled status. Unlike the initial application to the scheme, there's no big bang or moment when you can encourage people, 'This is the deadline, you need to apply', because everyone will have—. There'll be a series of hundreds of different deadlines depending on when someone first applied. It's going to be a challenge, basically because some people are confused about their own immigration status. So, you're going to get people who don't realise that pre-settled status is temporary, or maybe who think that they're automatically going to convert. It's going to be harder the second time around for people to apply.
This, I think, also hasn't been fully appreciated—that, up to at least the end of this year, if someone had been here for, say, three years, they didn't need to evidence three years because pre-settled status was a safety net; they could always get in with just maybe one month of evidence, and they could get pre-settled status. When they're applying for settled status, they're not going to have that safety net, and they're going to have to retrospectively evidence five years of residence in order to get settled status. And so, for some of the vulnerable groups that we're talking about—people with more difficult and chaotic lives for various different reasons—that's going to be harder.
And—sorry, a final point—we're not going to know how many of them there are. Because we may know, for example, that, let's say, we have 2 million people, or thereabouts, who, by the end of this process, have been granted pre-settled status. Then, by the end of five years, you may find, okay, let's say, 1.5 million people upgraded from pre-settled status to settled status—and let's assume that the Home Office do start working out that figure, because currently that last figure doesn't actually exist. We won't know how many of the remaining 500,000 just went home and don't need status anymore, or how many are still living in the UK but fell off the track and lost their status. So, without any new data gathering to try and work out who's retained their status, that's going to be another area where we just don't have the data to inform policy decisions.
Thank you. Dai.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Does gen i ddim cwestiynau eraill. Mae atebion cynhwysfawr wedi dod ger bron, a diolch yn fawr iawn i chi. Gwnaf i adael i Alun Davies ddatblygu'r themâu rŵan. Diolch, Gadeirydd.
Thank you, Chair. I have no further questions. The answers were very comprehensive indeed, and thank you very much. I'll allow Alun Davies to develop on those themes. Thank you, Chair.
That's kind of you. Do you know? There are a couple of things that strike me, listening to the conversation. One thing that I found most striking from the weekend papers was the fall in population: 1.3 million people, who are believed, if the papers are to be believed anyway, to be mainly EU citizens who have returned to their home countries as a consequence of Brexit. Who can blame them, with the state we're in? I'm interested in where does that leave us, and do we know—. I presume, at the moment, we probably don't know. I was very pleased to hear Jonathan's more upbeat analysis of where we are, and that would tend to be where my thoughts would go as well, but we seem to be losing people, and I presume that there's a population exchange taking place in some ways. The people who are more mobile and more able to move will be able to do so, and people who are less able are less able to do so. Does that affect the sort of people that were then being described who were unable to, or for some reason find applications more difficult? I'm interested to understand where that is. If we have more difficulties down the line, are we in the situation whereby we've done really well to get started, but, do you know what, rather than solve our problems, what we've got now are different problems?
Yes. There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment about how many people may have left the UK as a result of the pandemic, and I'm sure Jonathan will talk a little bit more about his calculations, and I think at this stage it is very plausible that there have been people leaving the UK. The data don't suggest that it's all EU citizens; it actually shows a mix and slightly more non-EU citizens, actually, than EU citizens, but we have to be really careful about the statistics, because there were some important technical changes in how the data were collected that mean that it might not be reliable. The census will be helpful from this perspective, because we have a census coming up this year and that will help fill in the gap, but yes, currently massive uncertainty.
In terms of the point you raised about how this will affect the EU settlement scheme and the people who might struggle to apply, I think the big issue here is probably absences. What one hears from anecdotal evidence is that a lot of people who have left the UK have done so temporarily; they can work from home in the current environment and they're planning to come back. At least, some of them are planning to come back. Now, it is also the case that a long absence can jeopardise your immigration status. Again, there may be people, for example, who have pre-settled status, who don't realise that that status could lapse, or they may jeopardise their eligibility for the settled status if they spend too long out of the UK. So, that, I think, will be one of the areas to look out for.
Okay. I'm grateful to you for that. Is there anything that Governments perhaps should be doing that they aren't doing? One of the things I was quite struck by in that first round of answers was the fact that we've got over this first hurdle, and that seems to be reasonably effective, and then a number of you said the move from pre-settled status to settled status and the rest of it were also additional hurdles, if you like, and additional difficulties and problems further down the line. So, we are where we are—which is a great civil service line—does that mean that we now have new issues that Governments should be addressing? What are the additional steps that, perhaps, Governments could be taking to reach some of those hard-to-reach people Claire described earlier? Is there something that either Welsh Government or UK Government should be doing that isn't being done? It's a general question—don't rush to answer.
I'll just quickly follow up on Madeleine's points on the population statistics. As Madeleine said, the 1.3 million number comes from my research that was published—
Well, there we are then; I've been reading all about it, Jonathan, it was a great piece.
And as Madeleine said, we should emphasise that there is a lot of uncertainty about these numbers, because—. I mean, there are two types of uncertainty, I would say. There is uncertainty about how many people have actually left because, in that research, what I was trying to do was to highlight some of the issues relating to the way that the data has been collected and the way that the Office for National Statistics are presenting data collected under very difficult conditions, which leads us to think that the published statistics underestimate the scale of population change that we've seen, so there's uncertainty around that. I think we can be reasonably certain that there has been a very significant exodus of people and that, indeed, the UK population has shrunk significantly for the first time really since world war two, and that, in itself, is a very big deal, but there's uncertainty about how large that change is.
But then, there's also uncertainty—. Beyond uncertainty around the data, there's uncertainty about what happens next. As Madeleine says, many of those who've left obviously intend for their departure to be temporary, but that doesn't mean that it will be; things can change, either because they decide not to come back or, as Madeleine says, because immigration status issues prevent them from doing so. So, I think one thing Government can do is probably ensure—and at least it does have e-mail addresses for everybody, or pretty much everybody who applied via the app; it should be able to keep people regularly informed of what their position is, remind them of what—. Even if it doesn't change the rules, ideally, there would be some extra grace periods applicable to this so that they could, for example, say that the six months absence period does not apply to absences that result from COVID, when people could not travel in and out of the country, or were following the advice of either their own Government or our Government not travelling in and out of the country. It would seem, in my view, pretty unreasonable to say to somebody who'd left in May and who had pre-settled status, that if they come back in April, post vaccination, 'No, you've been out of the country for more than six months, therefore, when it comes to us, we won't convert your pre-settled status into settled status', which, as I understand it—Madeleine might elaborate—would be the current position. Is that right, Madeleine?
That's my understanding as well, yes.
So, why would we want to say to that person who left for good reason and maintained their connection with the UK and had always intended to come back that they couldn't return in the same position as when they left? So, there are some things that Government could do on policy and also some things that it could do on messaging that would make that better.
In terms of vulnerable groups, I would say that there is currently a judicial review case being brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants against the Government, requiring the Home Office, or seeking to enjoin the Home Office to try and fill in the data—I won't go into the technicalities; I provided a witness statement in support of the JCWI—but it's basically trying to force the Home Office to collect as much data as possible, retrospectively and prospectively, both through surveys of people who have applied for settled or pre-settled status and going forward, surveys of people seeking to convert from pre-settled into settled status, and then, possibly, additional surveys using other means as well, just to try and get a handle on the size of the potential problems. I don't know whether that case will succeed, but, hopefully, whether or not it does, it does give some impetus to the Government to try and get a better handle on how many people we're talking about in these various groups.
Could I add to that, briefly, on the issue of data collection? I think this is actually one area where there is quite a lot that could be done, both on the EU settlement scheme, but also just on the future immigration system. In the future, if we want to be able to evaluate the immigration system and things like how many people still need to apply for settled status or what have been the impacts of different immigration routes, we're going to need statistics that essentially use administrative data records to link people's activities in the UK, through, for example, their tax and benefits activity, to their immigration status, so that from a statistical—. Not for operational purposes, but from a statistical perspective. You would then be able to look at the data and say, 'Okay, we see these people, for example, who are active, they're paying tax, we have them in the HMRC records, but it doesn't look like they have converted from pre-settled status to settled status. We have evidence they are still here.' Those are the kinds of things. This is the future of immigration statistics. That's where the world is moving. The UK is going to need to do it eventually as well; it's just a question, I think, of how long it takes to get there and be able to have that kind of data at your disposal when you're thinking about things like how we communicate to groups of people that we believe have slipped through the net of the settlement scheme.
Claire, do you want to add anything? Marley then and that's that.
Thank you. Just on the question of what more the Government can do now to particularly help people who are in vulnerable situations. I think, first of all, there needs to be some clarity over what constitutes reasonable grounds if the deadline is missed in June. At the moment, I think it's not totally clear. We know, as Madeleine said, there were some clear examples of what would be reasonable grounds, for instance, being a child in care and not having the local authority process the application on your behalf. But we need, I think, a lot more clarity on all the other types of situations that may be the case, where people might miss that deadline.
There also, I think, needs to be clarity on the part of employers and landlords to make clear what they need to be doing, both up until the grace period and then after the grace period, because people who lose their legal right to be in the UK will face the kind of employer checks and landlord checks that other non-EU citizens have been used to for a number of years now. So, I think there needs to be real clarity over this, because it's a really major change in policy that could affect lots of people who are living in the UK.
Secondly, I think real effort needs to be made over the next few months to sign up as many people as possible. Local authorities, I think, are critical here. For instance, doing things like making sure that, through the 'Everyone in' policy, where people who are homeless or who have housing difficulties are being support because of the pandemic, and making sure that EU citizens in those situations are also checked to make sure that they get their settled status or their pre-settled status in that process. I think that's really important.
And then, finally, I think also on the issue of benefits, I think there can and there has, to some extent, been some easement, but there can be more easement to ensure that people who fall through the cracks and don't meet the conditions of the habitual residents tests are able to access universal credit through this very difficult period.
Finally, I'll just say on Jonathan's point on the transitioning over to settled status and the issue about absences. My understanding is that I think the Government have said that for one-off absences of more than six months, that could be justified where there is a really important reason. It seems that they're saying that, potentially, an absence due to being outside the UK due to COVID could count as such a reason like that. So, that would be, I think, a reasonable condition to put in place that would allow people to have those absences where you really can't get to the UK because of the travel restrictions.
And Claire. You're muted.
I'd agree with most of the points there. In terms of Welsh Government, I think there is a role for Welsh Government to play in supporting and continuing to support the organisations that have been engaging with EU migrants throughout the settlement scheme. So, we've got organisations that are now providing support and advice, and I think that needs to continue after June, because, as others have said, there are going to be issues as we go forward. So, I think that needs to happen.
In terms of local authorities and employers, I think there does need to be more communication and training of front-line staff. This is something we found in our work that EU migrants are facing discrimination when they're coming up against front-line providers. And I think there has a been a commitment to training front-line staff, but I've had anecdotal evidence that that hasn't quite hit the ground running and people are still unsure. And I think that will continue in terms of people not understanding the rights and responsibilities that they have.
Reaching out to employers over the next couple of months is crucial, I think, because if we are to pick up those who are not yet aware of the scheme or need that support, I think it's reaching out to as many organisations that are in contact with those people. And I think there needs to be—. I'm aware of people that simply do not want to apply and they're scared, and I think there needs to be more communication around the need to apply. The messaging at the moment has been eclipsed by what's happening in terms of COVID. Before March, we saw quite a lot of communications from Welsh Government around the need to apply; I think that's, obviously, got slightly eclipsed by COVID. So, I think there just needs to be more communication again around the issue.
Thank you very much.
Okay. Huw, did you want a supplementary on this?
Yes, thanks, David, just a short supplementary. From what all of you have said, there's a reasonable expectation that there will be people, either because they're vulnerable or because of issues of communication, that still get missed from this. So, at the moment, we have a hard date set, then. There's an advantage in setting a hard date, because it encourages a drive towards getting everybody signed up. But, if you like, if the main door shuts and we need a backdoor reopened to deal with the exceptions—and we don't know how many exceptions there may be—do you know if any work has been done on that with Government as to what a backdoor entrance to exception might look like, and how long that door might be open for? Because it can't be open forever and ever, but it seems like we do need something beyond June, where we can say that it's not the final slamming shut of that door on this scheme. For those who have missed out, there is a way in which, with the right documentary evidence, they can get back in and get that settled statement. So, do you know if anything's been done on that, and would you want Welsh Government to be making representations for some sort of scheme in order to make that happen to the UK Government?
Who wants to pick up on that? Madeleine, I can see, and Marley. Madeleine first.
Thanks. This is probably one of the biggest issues facing the scheme. The Government has said, in general terms, that they plan to continue to let people apply if there were reasonable grounds for them not having applied. Now, to my knowledge—and others can correct me if there's anything more recent on this—there hasn't been a lot of detail provided. So, things like detailed case studies about exactly what would and wouldn't be okay from that perspective. And I haven't seen anything to—. One of the big challenges is—. Okay, if you look at what people get discretion for elsewhere in the immigration system, it's very clear that someone who's seriously ill in hospital or was in an abusive relationship where they were being controlled by someone else and they were able to evidence that, those are the kinds of cases where it's clear that discretion would be exercised. The problem is that, in this case, we may end up with people who, you know, their reason is, 'Well, I forgot', or possibly even, 'I didn't think that I should have to do this; I had an objection in principle.' Some of these would be much more tricky areas to deal with, and it is possible that there will be quite a lot of those people—as we outlined before, we don't know—and so, I think, the challenge for the Government is just going to be how to deal with that spectrum of different types of reasons. I absolutely agree with you that in terms of behavioural science, we know that deadlines are really important for motivating people, but you end up with the slightly tricky balance then of, once you've done the deadline bit and you've tried to motivate people, you still have people who haven't applied, and so, are you then going to say, 'No, you really are just up for deportation now,' or is there going to be a new approach? And that, I would say, we don't really know the answer to yet.
It's going to be an interesting scenario if, as opposed to somebody who had real technical issues why they couldn't apply, or for whatever reason, if the Government gets itself into a position like they did with Windrush, where they are actively deporting people who've been here for 30 or 40 years who, for one reason or another, didn't get round to it, those are going to be interesting news pictures. It just feels to me as if there needs to be some element of professional discretion within this, that if somebody has, as you say, taken the view, 'Well, I've been here 30 or 40 years, I've paid taxes, I've employed people, I never thought I would get to this point, but now I have to,' you're not going to deport them back, frankly, to Sardinia. I say that with a vested interest.
I think that's right. We had always assumed that, for exactly those reasons, because it would not make sense from any perspective that the Government would, in practice, put in place some sort of mechanisms. But they don't seem to have set out a clear policy yet, and perhaps for the reason that you said, Huw, that they want people to still feel the pressure of the deadline, and that's sort of not crazy, I guess. But, at some point, it would be sensible to set up a unit within the Home Office that is just dealing with late applications and trying to do it in a way that does it professionally, and, crudely, keeps these pieces out of the papers by ensuring that we don't, in fact, deport people who no sensible person would deport.
Marley, did you want to say something?
Yes, I think it's also worth saying it's not just about deportation, there are also risks around not being able to access employment, you're not going to be able to rent property or be able to access benefits and so on. If we look, as Madeleine said, but just to briefly add that on the issue of the time limit, it looks like the Government have indicated, at least in some cases, that there wouldn't be a time limit, and they gave the example, for instance, of a child who is in care who then discovered that, actually, they hadn't been processed for their application maybe 10 years later, when they became an adult. So, it looks like they are being, to some extent, flexible in those cases, but, really, they've only given a few examples so far that I've seen, you know, people who are victims of modern slavery, children in care, people who are homeless. I think we need a clearer sense about who would be eligible for being able to apply after the deadline.
Okay, thank you. We'll go on to questions now from David.
Afternoon, all. Quite understandably, recent reports show that applications from Wales to the scheme reduced over the summer months, due, of course, to the coronavirus pandemic, and I'm sure it's still having an impact on people's applications. So, could you discuss how you feel the pandemic will actually impact on applications, and, a little further to that, whether you feel it may prevent people making their applications by that deadline of 30 June?
Who wants to come in? Go on, Claire.
Thank you. Yes, there certainly has been an impact on the applications made. Organisations have tried to go to a digital method and way of engaging, but certainly there are concerns around access in terms of engagement with people through digital means. I know, before the pandemic, that much of the engagement done by community cohesion officers and other organisations was actually physically going into communities and talking face-to-face to people, meeting people, because there weren't established ways of engaging with EU migrants in Wales prior to having the EU settlement scheme. So, I think there is concern now from organisations that obviously—. Overall, it's been okay but there are concerns that there are obviously people without digital skills who don't have the equipment to do it. It's more difficult to do applications online if there's quite a lot of complexity around the cases as well. So, even though organisations have adapted well, I think, in terms of providing online forums and drop-in sessions, I think there will be an impact, going forward, and I think there are concerns around older people, more vulnerable people, who just don't have the access to that digital platform. I think it's good that organisations have adapted, but I think there's concern from organisations that it will have an impact on the amount of applications, going forward. So, I think, as I said, that's why that support needs to continue and the Welsh Government need to fund those organisations beyond June. I think the likelihood of face-to-face sessions happening before June doesn't look very promising at the moment, so I think that will continue to be an impact.
I don't have much to add beyond that, except just to mention, of course, that some of the applicants that we'll be talking about, their lives also will have been affected by the pandemic in terms of people losing their jobs, maybe absences from the country that might make their applications more difficult or just make them more vulnerable in a host of ways that means that they need more support than they might otherwise have done.
Okay, thank you. Obviously, there's the anomaly that the number of applications to the scheme is greater than the estimated statistics for EU citizens living in the UK before the end of the transition period. This is often attributed to double counting and repeat applications. So, could you just discuss what the impact of this has been on the accuracy of the statistics that you're dealing with?
Jonathan, you mentioned the figures early in your first evidence. Do you want to comment on this possibility?
It's basically not double counting. There is some double counting, but that's not really what's going on here. The number of individual applications is significantly bigger than the resident population as estimated from the labour force survey. Moreover, if you look at individual nationality groups, the differences are even bigger, with lots and lots more Bulgarians than were estimated to be resident in the country, for example. Now, that maybe partly because the LFS/APS doesn't necessarily cover everybody who would be eligible, because the eligibility requirements aren't necessarily that you have to be within the LFS/APS, which doesn't cover everybody, but it's probably mostly to do with undercounting of some groups in the labour force survey and annual population survey, which we knew about, or we thought we knew about, but I think it's probably been rather greater than we suspected.
But, as I said in my opening statement, the real problem is that we still don't know how big the problem is. So, the fact that lots more Romanians than were expected to apply have applied doesn't mean that there aren't still Romanians who haven't applied, obviously—there clearly are. But how many are there we don't know. And I think the way to address that is by better data collection and monitoring, as both Madeleine and I said, and also by ensuring, as everybody has said, that we keep the application windows open in one form or another and make greater efforts to make contact with vulnerable groups. And I think, layered on top of that, we have, as Madeleine said, the impact of COVID in particular with people who may have lost their jobs and/or left the country but still want to have settled status because they intend to live here long term. That is a particular issue and further complicates things.
Thank you. [Inaudible.]—can I ask one question? We've seen the large numbers you mentioned of people who have left the UK. Do you know if there are particular sectors that have been affected by that departure back to the home countries? Are there particular sectors or industries that have been affected—social care, or the farming and agricultural sector? Do we know that?
We don't know in detail, but I think common sense and the data we have suggest that the sectors that have been hardest hit economically by the pandemic are those where people are most likely to have lost their jobs, and almost certainly where people are most likely to have left the country—that being hospitality, restaurants, hotels, catering, possibly agriculture to some extent. But, I think, in terms of numbers, it's going to be hospitality, catering, accommodation and food services and retail, for all the reasons that we are all very familiar with in the general context of COVID.
Thank you. David.
I understand from earlier questions that it appears that the statistics that are available at this moment make it very difficult for you to accurately identify missing groups of applicants. Is that true?
Absolutely. It was difficult enough before COVID, and it's even more difficult now. We already knew before COVID that the applications didn't match the existing statistics, and then the existing statistics, which are based on household surveys, have been disrupted by the fact that it is now very difficult to do household surveys, except online and by phone, with impacts that are very hard to measure indeed. Because we don't have accounts of people entering or leaving the country—we have traveller accounts, but we don't know how many people are entering or leaving permanently; the international passenger survey itself, which measures immigration and emigration flows, has been completely discontinued—we are very much not flying blind, but certainly the uncertainties both about what is actually happening and what is going to happen are very large.
Marley, do you want to come in, and then Madeleine?
I was very briefly going to say, as Jonathan said, we haven't got the international passenger survey. The labour force survey has changed how the survey's been conducted. There already were concerns about the quality of underlying data in any case, and there have been so many changing events with COVID and with Brexit. I think it's going to be very hard to disentangle a lot of the impacts of recent events, and we may never know the full impact of some of these recent events, including the impact of the end of free movement precisely on immigration flows and on the total EU population, and ONS are shifting towards a new model of how to measure migration, which could be very good for understanding future migration patterns, but it will be harder, I suspect, to compare that with what we have had in the past. So, I think we're likely to have just fundamental uncertainty over this period in time, regardless of future efforts to improve migration statistics.
Thank you. Can we move on, if we can, to the digital scheme that has been employed by the UK Government with regard to this? The committee heard from EU citizens and focus groups in 2019 as part of its inquiry. One of the issues raised was the scheme's digital-only nature and the lack of physical proof being provided to EU citizens of their settled status. Could you give us some views as to whether you feel there may be some long-term issues arising out of the fact that we have used just this digital scheme?
Yes, speaking to people who have gone through the process, I think there's a real concern, particularly when you look at the Windrush scandal, that there is no physical evidence about proof of your application. So, I think there are long-term effects on people's belonging as well. I think there was quite a lot of that argument around, 'Well, why can't we have that physical document?' I know there were some people carrying around their print-off of their e-mail in their bag so that they've got it with them at all times. So, I think there's that sense of belonging. But it does pose issues in the future—people told me they might have a different e-mail address, they might lose that. These are all issues that give uncertainty to them, and I think there are clear arguments for having that physical documentation. I think most people would want that.
I think there are lots of different arguments on this from either perspective. I don't have particularly strong views, but my one concern, I think, about the digital status is there's a potential risk of greater discrimination, particularly in the private rental sector, just because it creates an additional complication for landlords when trying to navigate the system, because they have to log on to a particular system in order to check someone's status. That could make it less likely for landlords to want to rent to EU citizens, so I think there's a potential risk there. Otherwise, I think that probably there are challenges either way, with physical or digital status, but there's a potential for greater discrimination.
Just for clarity, for people who may be watching this broadcast, you're saying that, with a digital application, there is no certificate downloaded for you as proof that you've made that application.
Yes, if you do it online.
Doing it online, there's not actually a physical certificate.
Fine. Okay, the last one from me: could you confirm if witnesses are aware of any precedents where similar issues have arisen with the digital-only scheme, and how these may have been addressed? Sorry, are you hearing me, David?
So, anything in the scheme that might be a concern, and how we need to address those concerns—on top of what has already been said.
Okay, can I repeat, then?
I see no-one's enthusiastic, so I assume you think that you've basically covered that.
I don't know if there's anything wrong with my mike now. Can people hear me at all?
I'm not aware of other countries, if that's what you're asking, who have digital-only statuses, although that may exist. There have in some limited way in the past been ways of checking online for non-EU citizens when their documents weren't available. There's some tentative evidence—there was a study that was done by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants a few years ago that looked into the risks of discrimination as a result of right-to-rent checks, and they tested various scenarios of fictitious applicants applying for accommodation to see what kind of response rates they got, and one of the scenarios they tested was someone who said the documents weren't available but could be checked online, and they found that those people were less likely to get a positive response from a landlord. That, as far as I'm aware, is among the only bits of evidence that we have at this stage. Marley may correct me if there's something more recent he's come across.
No, to be honest, that was the study that I was thinking of when I was referring to the potential risk of discrimination.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you very much. We'll move on to Huw.
Thanks, David. Thank you very much. I'm going to turn just for a few questions here to the new UK immigration system and how it might relate to Wales. I wonder if I could ask you about—if I could bundle a few things up here because of the pressures of time—the implications of this for Wales in general, the changes that might arise from moving from the previous freedom of movement system through to a points-based immigration system, and also your thoughts, which I know we've touched on before, on things such as the revised salary thresholds and how that could affect Wales in particular compared to the whole of the UK. If I can throw that out to you there, who would like to begin?
I'm happy to start. As you guys know, I wrote several papers for the Welsh Government on the impacts of the new system and, more recently, a paper for the Welsh NHS Confederation looking specifically at the health sector. I think the broad takeaway from all of that has been, first of all, that the proposed new system is a considerable improvement overall and for Wales, and, in particular, for the health sector, on the original proposals that were made under Theresa May. It is a considerably less restrictive system, and the lowering of the salary threshold and the introduction of the NHS visa does mean that some of the real problems that the original proposals would have entailed have definitely been lessened.
I think there are still going to be issues. The most obvious one, which everybody knows about, is in social care, where the combination of persistent underfunding, the nature of the sector, low salaries, poor career pathways, means that the sector has become quite dependent on EU migration, and that is going to be much more difficult in the future. The way to solve that, really, is by a combination of some flexibility in the immigration system with better funding, better training, retention and career prospects, but all of those are difficult and perhaps even more difficult post COVID until there is a thorough reform of the social care system.
Beyond that, we identified some sectors where, even under the £25,000 threshold, there were likely to be issues—some medium-skilled manufacturing jobs, food processing and so on—and that likely is still the case. But I think, in the short term, the real priority is making sure that the new system is actually working, particularly—. And in some ways, the COVID crisis is a stay of execution in the sense that migration flows are significantly less than they normally are anyway—not many people are moving between countries to work. And so there is perhaps a grace period that wouldn't otherwise have been there to make sure that the new system is functioning properly.
But I think that is the key challenge—making sure that the new system is functioning properly and, from your point of view, that employers, both public and private sector in Wales, know how to handle and navigate the new system, that the NHS in Wales knows how to make use of the new healthcare visa, that schools and universities can deal with the new system, and that employers as well understand what's changed and what they can and can't do.
Thanks, Jonathan—some good takeaways there. That's either a more optimistic or a less pessimistic one, depending on whether it's glass half full or not. Marley, you wanted to add something there.
Yes. I think Jonathan is right that the pandemic does delay the impacts of this somewhat. But I think it is still the case that this is a really radical departure from our past immigration system—the end of free movement. I think there are still quite significant implications for some sectors. If you think about Wales, it's certainly manufacturing sectors, social care; Jonathan mentioned food processing, which is obviously having wider implications due to the new trade relationship with the EU. So, I think there are real challenges.
It's worth saying that the salary threshold reduction may help some sectors to adapt, but the skills threshold is probably the main thing that makes it hard for employers to recruit from the EU in the future, because that is, basically, saying, if you are trying to recruit someone who is working in a particular occupation and that occupation doesn't meet the threshold, you simply cannot hire that person. It doesn't matter what salary you pay them, you just simply can't, and that rules out lots of different occupations, such as care workers. I think that's a real challenge, and we've estimated that, for instance, just around two thirds of EU migrants who are currently in the UK would not be eligible for that visa, based on their skills threshold and their salary threshold. That's EU employees who are working in the UK. Obviously, there is no mechanism for self-employed workers in the future as well, so that's a big change to the system. Also, there are, of course, all the additional costs involved too. We've got the immigration skills charge, which, for medium to large employers, is £1,000 per year. We've got an additional licence fee; employers need to get one. There are additional costs for individuals—migrants themselves—including the health surcharge, which is now over £600 a year. So, lots of additional fees and barriers, and that includes, obviously, people who are highly skilled, as well as people who may not be as skilled. So, these are quite wide-ranging impacts on the system. I think it will take a number of months to feel the effects, and obviously it's going to be all intertwined with COVID, but it is a big change, and I think it will have an impact on employers.
Could I add to that, briefly? I think another area where we'll see a difference in terms of employers' adaptation to the new system is, depending on how big the employers are—because we see this across a lot of areas, that larger employers are just better able to take on bureaucratic requirements of all sorts of different kinds. In this case, they may already be familiar with the sponsorship system, having hired non-EU workers, for example. If you're a bigger employer, the chances that you'll have had to do that at some point, or possibly regularly, are much higher, whereas looking at smaller employers, who just don't hire someone very often and maybe never had to sponsor anyone, that new bureaucracy and the cost may be more intimidating. There is some evidence that smaller employers struggle with that. We also see that with—. If you look at the data on sponsor licensing, there have been gradual increases in the number of employers being registered to be a licensed sponsor, but it's not very big. And so I think there will—. There are potentially a lot more employers who are going to want to try and engage with this system and may then discover that, actually, it takes quite a long time to put together all the paperwork to become a licensed sponsor, and there are all sorts of requirements. So, that's one thing.
Then the other thing to briefly mention is there's a big uncertainty at the moment about what's happening to the shortage occupation list. In theory, there are going to be lower salary thresholds for jobs that are on the shortage occupation list, and, particularly in the middle-skilled occupations, we don't yet know—. The Government said that it was not immediately planning to implement the list of shortage occupations that was produced by the Migration Advisory Committee, and so there is some uncertainty about when, if at all, that decision will be revisited and what will the next few years look like from that perspective, because, obviously, at least for the particular occupations that you're looking at, there's quite a big difference between the salary thresholds if the list goes ahead or if it doesn't.
Claire, do you want to add anything?
Yes. Obviously, we argued for more say in what happens to who comes to work, live and study in Wales, and I don't think the system actually still allows that flexibility over regional decisions, so I think there is an issue for Wales in terms of the challenges it faces from demographic issues. We're seeing a lack of population growth, an ageing population, and some areas could face a decline in population. Although the new system does allow for greater flexibility, I don't think it allows for Wales to have a say in who comes to work and live here.
David, I know we're out of time here. Do I have an opportunity for just a small follow-up here?
A very small follow-up, because I've got to close it up, I'm afraid.
Okay. Well, I'll try and keep it really, really short. It's whether or not other countries who have been through this transition from a more open migration system to a points-based, particularly when it affects low-paid or low-skilled workers—. Are there lessons that we can learn about what that has meant for, as Claire was touching on, some of our demographic challenges and so on, how those countries have responded to it, and whether they've responded to it successfully?
Short answers, please. No-one wants to—. Does anyone want to take that?
Yes. One precedent you could—. It's quite an unusual situation, ending free movement and then leading to a much more restrictive system, so no really great precedents come up right way. Obviously, there's the experience that the United States had when they ended their Bracero programme that they had introduced after the war to help with labour shortages there. And what happened in the US, admittedly at a very different place and time, was large-scale irregular migration. Now, I'm not saying that that's inevitably the outcome in the UK, but the situation in the US essentially was that employers did not adjust, they just turned to irregular migrants instead, with a host of negative consequences.
I think here there is certainly a risk that there will be some increase in irregular migration as a result of this and that would have consequences, both for the well-being of migrants themselves, for enforcement and so forth. It's a very challenging one—it's always really difficult to measure, but it's certainly going to be something that's there in the background.
Can I—just again trying to be the glass half full here—just point out that the one potential opportunity that, if I were responsible for trying to address some of Wales's long-term demographic and economic challenges, I would be thinking about now, are the Hong Kong British national overseas citizens? We do not know how many people will want to come here—and it is not under the control of the UK Government, let alone Wales; it's under the control, largely, of the Chinese Government—but if, as is a significant possibility, there are hundreds of thousands of people who come here, which is, for what it's worth, a central Home Office estimate, that's a huge potential opportunity for the UK. And if I were the Welsh Government, I would be talking now—those people will come where they see a combination of opportunity and an existing community—I would be talking now to the Chinese community in Cardiff and elsewhere and saying, 'What do you need to get as many as possible of Hong Kong people to come here, rather than to come to London, which is where they'll automatically start?'
On that optimistic note, I think we'll end, and thank you very much, because we've come to the end of, and we've gone beyond, our session time, so thank you, all of you, for your time this afternoon. As you know, you'll receive copies of the transcript for any factual inaccuracies; if there are any, please let the clerking team know as soon as possible. But also we didn't get on to certain areas—we didn't discuss Welsh citizens in the EU, and perhaps there are issues there that we should be aware of and perhaps other points and matters. So, we might write to you and ask for some written feedback, perhaps, on those points, if that's okay with yourselves. Everyone's nodding, so I assume that that's okay. Thank you for your time; it's very much appreciated. Thank you very much.
And, for colleagues, we move on to the next item on the agenda, which is a paper to note, and that's the correspondence from the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition to myself and the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee regarding the Trade Bill legislative consent, which, by the way, Members will be aware, we discussed in Plenary last Tuesday and it was voted on at that time. So, are Members content to note that paper? I see that they are.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Therefore, item 4 is a motion to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting under Standing Order 17.42(vi). Are Members content to do so? I see that they are, therefore we'll now end our public session and go into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:09.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:09.