Brexit: Poles in UK should 'consider' returning, Polish ambassador says

Image source, PA Media

Poland's ambassador to the UK has written to 800,000 Polish nationals, advising them to "seriously consider" returning home after Brexit.

He called on Poles living in the UK to secure their future by either applying for settled status or returning.

Arkady Rzegocki said living standards in Poland were improving, providing "a very good opportunity to come back".

Mr Rzegocki described the current number of applicants to the EU settlement scheme as "alarmingly low".

He wrote: "To date, around 27% of Poles living in the British Isles have applied for settled status.

"This is an alarmingly low level, meaning that thousands of Polish citizens may be exposed to complications related to the lack of regulating their status."

The ambassador told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Many people do not realise they have to register, they have lived here for many years - even if they have resident status, they still have to register."

He added: "Quite a lot of people have some problems with receiving their settled status. People who live here for 10 or more years also had some problems."

The Home Office said the EU Settlement Scheme application process is supposed to be "as easy as possible".

Minister Victoria Atkins said: "[EU citizens] are our friends, our neighbours, we want to make this as easy as possible."

She said the government had dealt with 1.1 million applications already, with another 300,000 currently being processed.

Ms Atkins added that the system was "designed with the EU" and that the government had invested in advertising "to ensure people can be assisted".

'Considering returning'

Mr Rzegocki said although a significant number of Poles remain in the UK, many are considering a return to Poland.

"Last year 116,000 left [Britain]. There are still about a million here but you can see there is a discussion being had," he added.

"Soon, Great Britain, which has been home to thousands of Poles for generations, will most likely cease to be a member of the European Union - which we regret, but we also see this process as an opportunity to strengthen the bond between our two countries," he said in his letter.

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics suggests around 832,000 people born in Poland were resident in the UK in 2018, the joint highest overseas-born population alongside India.

Migration from Poland to the UK increased when the country joined the EU in 2004. At the time, the unemployment rate there was around 20% and incomes four times lower than in the UK.

EU citizens who are already living in the UK under EEA freedom of movement rules (rules for the EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) will have until 31 December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme if the UK leaves without a deal.

The scheme aims to register an estimated 3.3 million EU citizens and provide them the right to continue living and working in the UK after 30 June 2021.

Media caption,
EU citizen Lily has lived near Bristol for 16 years. But she's worried about what Brexit means for her future

The scheme has faced complaints that EU citizens with long-standing ties to the UK face difficulties in applying.

Lily Beurrier, a French citizen from Bristol, said that despite living in the UK for 16 years and working for the same employer for 15 years, and being married to a UK citizen with two British children, her application lacked enough evidence to be instantly approved.

"I never actually thought it would happen to me, I think my voice is not being heard," she said.

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