As the UK left the European Union in 2020, many EU nationals who had been residing in the country for several years were required to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to secure their rights to continue to live, work, and access services in the country. While the online process to apply for the government's newly created scheme may have been straightforward and accessible for many, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the UK, in partnership with national and local actors, stepped in to support those in the most vulnerable situations who were at serious risk of being left behind.
IOM works across the world to support the well-being of migrants, especially those in vulnerable situations, so preventing people ending up in irregular situations or with uncertain status has always been a key priority, for the benefit of all.
IOM in the United Kingdom has been working since 2019 providing free, expert immigration advice to support vulnerable EU citizens and their family members to access the EU Settlement Scheme. IOM works closely with Local Authorities across the UK, as well as a range of other community-based organisations and services, such as the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC), to reach and support people who are in vulnerable situations.
In many cases, the reasons why people seek help is not necessarily or immediately linked to the EUSS application process. Looking for a job, seeking medical help, and challenges in meeting basic needs were among the initial reasons for which individuals approached organizations searching for assistance. However, thanks to IOM raising awareness of the scheme and training local actors, many frontline staff of organizations such as PDREC were equipped to identify and help address complex vulnerabilities, and spot cases of individuals not realising they had to apply to the EUSS. "Many EU citizens we worked with simply were not aware of the scheme and that they had to do an application," explains IOM's caseworker, Katie Warner.
Lavinia Porfir, an EU citizen herself who moved to the UK years ago, is a Community Engagement Worker and Advocate at the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC). Lavinia is one of the community frontline workers who referred individuals with complex cases to IOM for support with the EU Settlement Scheme.
She speaks about when she met Lazim Musto, originally a former Iraqi-Kurdish refugee, who has been living in the UK for 23 years. With his wife and three children, all EU citizens, Lazim currently lives in Plymouth: "Lazim and his family have been referred to PDREC by the local job centre. The staff member there was aware of our work with IOM and the support available, so he referred Lazim to us." Lavinia explains that Lazim was concerned about "not having enough evidence to prove his status. He was facing challenges navigating the EUSS process for himself and his family members and was very stressed."
IOM and PDREC helped Lazim, his wife, and three children gather the documentation they needed to make the application, and they have now all received their settled status.
"I used to feel like a stranger before. I feel happy now. I feel free," he says.
"Brexit challenged the sense of identity and belonging of many people. Some of our service users lacked information, faced language barriers or isolation, or did not know how to obtain the required evidence and documents," Lavinia explains, adding that "the pandemic exacerbated many challenges."
In addition, the implications of these challenges were having a wider impact, and meant, for example, that many were afraid of accessing healthcare services: "The concerns people had about their immigration status were also preventing some of them from registering with a GP." Lavinia explains that the support she and the users of PDREC services received from IOM was decisive: "The advice we received from Katie has always been reliable and accurate. Securing their immigration status meant for many people that they could then find a job, a house, get on with their lives here."
Lavinia, originally from Romania, made the UK her home many years ago: "I can see that Plymouth is much more diverse now." She holds a Master's in European Studies and is part of a small but committed team at PDREC that works relentlessly to make their community an inclusive space, free from racial discrimination. Her hopes are that her community "can see the richness that different cultures bring and understand that they can really benefit from that.".
Combining local engagement with those potentially in need of support and the ability and expertise to deal with complex cases are at the heart of a successful partnership model where IOM UK's team of caseworkers has been playing a key role in building the capacity of frontline staff and community-based services across the UK to help people in vulnerable situations secure their status.
Please note that IOM only takes referrals from Local Authority or third sector support organisations for complex cases.
Email (for local authority staff or support organisation referrals only): immigrationadviceUK@iom.int
For public enquiries and support, please contact Here for Good.
IOM UK is certified by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) that regulates immigration advisers, ensuring they are fit, competent and act in their clients' best interests.