Closure of EU Settlement Scheme risks leaving migrant Roma behind

Brief No.7, 8 July 2021. Markéta Doležalová, Roxana Barbulescu, Noreen Mirza, Mihai Bica

Download or view policy brief: Closure of EU Settlement Scheme risks leaving migrant Roma behind (PDF)

Brief summary

The closure of the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) poses new challenges for migrant Roma in the UK and could further increase existing inequalities, create barriers to work for Roma, and contribute to ongoing marginalisation.

Roma communities would benefit from continued frontline support in order to retain their full rights to live and work in the UK.


  • EU Settlement Scheme requires EU citizens to prove they have settled or pre-settled status to continue to work and access services in the UK
  • Interviews with 15 local and national organisations that support Roma identified that Roma faced particular challenges with applying due to language barriers, digital access and COVID-19 restrictions
  • Roma will face similar challenges with proving their status, transitioning to settled status or making a late application and would benefit from ongoing frontline support 
  • Difficulties with obtaining and proving their status could create significant barriers to work. Support measures would improve access to work and accommodation, and reduce inequalities

Migrant Roma in the UK

Many Roma came to the UK to escape discrimination and marginalisation, find new economic opportunities and have a better life (Doležalová, 2018).

Roma are more likely to move into areas that have high rates of deprivation and tend to work in essential but undervalued jobs, such as food packing, meat production, cleaning or working in warehouses. Many have continued to work throughout the pandemic, despite the frequent lack of job security.

Difficulties in proving their status or in transitioning to settled status in the future would have a negative impact, not just on Roma, but also on their employers and the wider community.

UK’s EU Settlement Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was launched in March 2019 with the aim of allowing EU citizens residing in the UK to retain their rights, whilst limiting the number of migrants arriving in the UK after its departure from the EU.

EU citizens residing in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 were entitled to apply to the scheme up until the 30 June 2021 deadline.

Following this deadline, EU citizens need to prove that they have either a settled or a pre-settled status in order to be able to remain in the UK, work, access healthcare and other public services, rent accommodation or open a bank account.

Those with a pre-settled status must apply for a settled status before their pre-settled status expires or they will lose their status and right to reside in the UK.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted negatively on Roma access to the EUSS.

During spring 2020, many organisations temporarily stopped providing support with applications and started helping with benefit applications or arranging food parcels for families who lost their income.

Embassies suspended appointments for issuing ID documents or birth certificates which are necessary for making EUSS applications, leading to large backlogs.

Some Roma lost a source of income and temporarily returned to their country of origin, only to find themselves unable to return to the UK for many months due to travel restrictions, losing their continuous residence in the UK.

Barriers to Roma people accessing EUSS

We conducted fifteen qualitative interviews with local and national organisations from different regions in the UK that supported Roma in accessing the EUSS. Based on these interviews, we present the following findings.

Language and access to information

…the people that we do support mostly do not speak English, and if they do, they are quite reluctant to use it, because they don’t have the confidence in their language skills.

Interview 1

Roma come to the UK from different countries and consequently speak many different languages. While many are able to speak conversational English, all organisations we spoke to said that Roma applicants often need help with understanding complicated, technical English on application forms and official documentation. 

Incompatibility between digital skills and the application process

 They don’t know they need to access it [EUSS] online and they need to prove their status online, and they need to update the status. And when they realise this, then […] some of them realise they can’t do it, because […] the contact numbers are not theirs. The mobile number and email address left are not theirs, they’re someone else’s. The person’s who helped them with this.

Interview 2

The reliance on digital status will likely lead to future problems. Many Roma have limited IT skills and lack the confidence to complete online applications by themselves because a mistake could have significant consequences that would be difficult to rectify.

Reliance on digital status will likely create increased work and pressure on practitioners who will need to support Roma in accessing their status.

Transitioning from pre-settled to full status

The organisations estimated that 10% of Roma applicants (likely to be in the tens of thousands) have been granted the lesser pre-settled status, even though they should be entitled to the full settled status. They also suggest that people tended to apply for or accept the lesser status because it is easier to receive and they did not have the support needed to make a case for a settled status. 

Roma women with small children, or older people who are less likely to be in employment, are more at risk. For many couples, all bills and bank accounts are in the man’s name making it more difficult for women to prove their residency.

Ensuring that Roma have access to reliable information about what evidence they will need to transition, providing continuous support with gathering this evidence, and helping people apply for settled status on time would be more efficient than dealing with appeals against refused applications later.

 …we say to people, can you bring in any documents that you’ve got that might help us decipher where [you worked], what help we can give you and where you are and how long you’ve been here and all the rest of it. They used to just [bring] a carrier bag with all the bits that they’d got, for no rhyme nor reason.

Interview 11

Managing EUSS on behalf of children and young persons

The backlog at several embassies, difficulties in travelling to an embassy to obtain ID documents, and the long waiting times for the issuing of ID, means that a large number of Roma children born in the last two to three years are without a passport, and so were not able to apply before the deadline.

The Home Office allows late applications on grounds such as not having a valid ID by the deadline. However, the young people estranged from their families, or parents of young children, are likely to need help with making a case for late application.

Those who are still waiting for their ID documents may face barriers to accessing services, like healthcare, due to not having applied to the EUSS.


  • The government should periodically monitor and review progress on access to EUSS, on the number of people that still need to transition to settled status, and whether sufficient support is available to applicants
  • Retaining existing expertise in organisations that have experience with supporting Roma with accessing EUSS, for making late applications in the immediate future and with transitioning to settled status in the next five years, will be more cost effective than needing to create new expertise later
  • Official guidance and information should be issued using clear, jargon-free language and before publication, the clarity of the guidance needs to be tested by user groups. This will improve the accessibility of information, not only for Roma, but for the public in general
  • Working with existing organisations, religious and community leaders to develop better communication channels will improve access to reliable information and reduce misinformation
  • Ensuring that there is effective support for transitioning to settled status for those who are entitled to it would prevent people from losing their status, and thus becoming undocumented and vulnerable to exploitation. Obtaining settled status will enable people to continue working legally and be part of their community

About the authors

Dr Markéta Doležalová is a social anthropologist whose research focuses on Roma mobility, migration, exclusion, and well-being. She has worked on applied research focusing on the health inequalities of Roma.

Dr Roxana Barbulescu is an Associate Professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. Her work focuses on migrant rights, citizenship and the integration of newly arrived migrants.

Dr Noreen Mirza is a social anthropologist and author of Navigating the Everyday as Middle-Class British-Pakistanis: Ethnicity, Identity and Belonging, an ethnography based on her PhD thesis. 

Mihai Bica is a Policy and Information Officer at the Roma Support Group.

Further information

The research for this brief was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, grant numbers ES/V011502/1 and ES/S007717/1. We would like to thank the Roma Support Group for their support.

To cite this policy brief, please reference: Doležalová et al. (2021) Closure of EU Settlement Scheme risks leaving migrant Roma behind. Brief 7, Policy Leeds, University of Leeds.