“Don’t let us be another Windrush generation”
Natural Resources Wales employee, Chiara Caserotti, is backing UNISON’s campaign to encourage the UK government to extend its deadline for applications to the Settled Status Scheme. We caught up with this Italian-born, key worker to find out more.
Covid has prevented many EU nationals from applying for Settled Status, which would allow EU nationals already living in the UK, to continue to work here.
Many work delivering public services and UNISON’s asking members to write to their MP using its campaign website and request the deadline for applications be extended past June 2021.
Chiara, what’s your job at Natural Resources Wales?
I’m an environment officer in North East Wales, my job involves protecting and improving the water quality and ecology of rivers. I also respond to pollution incidents that unfortunately happen from time to time.
Pollution can be from sewerage, farms or chemical spills from industrial premises and whilst most of the time it has a minor impact, if not dealt with in a timely manner, it has the potential to escalate and kill fish and even affect drinking water supply. We identify the source of pollution where possible and we ensure that the polluters take remedial action and pay for the clean-up.
I’m a key worker at Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and classed as a Category 1 emergency responder under the Civil Contingency Act.
I’ve been with NRW for over 15 years and I love my job. I’m passionate about my work and feel I’m helping make a difference to the quality of our environment. Wales is a great place to work and there is some very progressive legislation to protect nature. NRW works pro-actively with other organisations, such as water companies, environmental charities and local landowners, to deliver projects which benefit water quality, biodiversity and the climate emergency, and ensure that our natural resources are managed sustainably for generations to come.
When did you come to the UK?
I arrived in the UK about 20 years ago, as an Erasmus student, studying Applied Biology at a university in Leicester. Being in the UK at university was so exciting and very multicultural! I’ve always been fascinated by British culture, the music and language.
How are EU nationals living here perceived?
Well, there’s no doubt since the vote to leave the EU, the impression of us in the media has become negative. We’re portrayed as job-grabbers, queue jumpers, of being of no benefit to the country or we’re portrayed as a drain on the NHS, services and housing.
The opposite is true. According to a study commissioned by the Migration Advisory Committee, EU migrants actually contribute about £2,300 per year more to the public purse than an average UK adult (The Fiscal Impact of Immigration on the UK (oxfordeconomics.com).
It’s so upsetting, I’m settled here, my partner is British and our daughter was born here. I think in English. I have fundraised for our local hospital, I am a member of the PTA at my daughter’s school and I pride myself on being a good, active member of the local community. And of course, I’m a UNISON rep at work.
But the negative stories on the media make me feel as if we are not welcome anymore and we are second-class citizens.
After I’ve been here for so many years, having legitimately settled under EU law and chosen the UK as my home, to have to apply to be able to stay in the UK feels like undermining my human rights. So many people are in the same situation as me.
Fortunately, I applied for Settled Status before the pandemic but there is still the uncertainty if I was to leave the country on holiday or to visit relatives, whether I would seamlessly be allowed back.
We saw what happened to the Windrush generation and it’s very worrying. We’re not given any physical evidence of Settled Status so proving your right to live here could be difficult.
Many EU nationals are key workers, heavily involved in the NHS, education or food supply chains and they have the additional worry of obtaining Settled Status on top of protecting themselves from Covid.
What are some of the barriers EU nationals face in applying for Settled Status?
With my Settled application, fortunately, I am fully employed and have been with the same employer for years, so providing my National Insurance number and passport was all I needed to secure Settled Status.
For others however it’s more difficult, what if they have been retired for years or have had time off work for caring responsibilities? Having to gather all the information from the past to prove you have been living in the UK for five consecutive years could be a huge task.
Gathering the required documents and getting them scanned is much more difficult when people are asked to stay at home and are prevented from accessing offices. There are lots of complicated situations.
Some EU nationals have chosen to move temporarily to their country of origin to look after vulnerable relatives during the pandemic and with lockdown preventing travel, they might lose the right to stay despite living here for years.
It will be illegal after 30th June for an EU national living here to continue to work in Britain without Settled Status. The government could immediately resolve the situation and remove the worry by extending the deadline for applications.
What do you think of UNISON’s campaign?
It’s great the biggest trade union in the UK is supporting EU nationals and that makes us feel welcome. UNISON realises we are part of public services and providing a positive contribution to the country.
What is your message to UNISON members?
Please take the time to write to your MP using UNISON’s easy website. This is not a joke for us. Don’t let us be another Windrush generation. We desperately need an extension to the deadline for applications to Settled Status so our legal right to remain is confirmed.
If you are an EU national living here and haven’t yet obtained Settled Status, please get in touch with the charity Settled which can help with free advice and legal workshops to support you.
We are all struggling with the pandemic at the moment and it would be good to have as much support as possible.