By Ann Marie Foley - 23 January, 2019
Bishop Paul McAleenan has welcomed the withdrawal of a proposed £65 fee for EU citizens remaining in the UK after Brexit.
As lead bishop for migration and asylum for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop McAleenan welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that EU citizens applying for ‘settled status’ to remain in the UK will no longer be expected to pay an application fee of £65.
“As I conveyed to the immigration minister earlier this year, such charges would not only be unjust, but would also create an unnecessary barrier for many people accessing the settlement scheme,” said Bishop McAleenan.
“The Church stands in solidarity with all EU citizens who have made their home here and we will continue to engage with the government as the scheme is implemented.”
Irish people in the UK do not have to apply for “Settled Status”, but other Europeans must have lived in the UK for five years to be eligible.
As details of the scheme were released last December (2018), Bishop McAleenan stated that the Catholic Church in England and Wales was standing in solidarity with all EU citizens who have made their home in the UK, and as the majority are Catholic, this is a special “pastoral concern”.
He paid tribute to these people from across Europe who have contributed to the Church and society in the UK and who are what he called “an integral and valued part of our parishes, schools and communities”.
He said there is evidence to show that immigration from Europe has not undermined opportunities for UK citizens, but rather brought considerable economic and social benefits.
He added that there has been uncertainty since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and while reassurances offered by senior politicians are important, EU citizens have been given far too little information or binding commitments about their right to stay. They have also been subjected to hate crime, which is on the rise. Those who have contributed to society over many years might feel it is unjust and divisive that they have to apply for permission to stay.
The Bishops’ Conference has opposed the scheme and said it was “unprincipled” and would create a barrier for larger families or people in financial difficulties. It made representations on these issues to ministers and through the Home Office. It also urged Catholic parishes, schools and organisations to bring the Settlement Scheme to the attention of all who need to avail of it and to be aware of vulnerable people who have difficulties when applying or who do not realise that they need to apply.
“We urge the whole Catholic community to take up Pope Francis’ call to welcome, protect, promote and help to integrate everyone who has made their home here – with particular concern at present for our European brothers and sisters,” Bishop McAleenan said on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference.