Foreign minister to Czechs seeking “settled status” in UK: Time and reliable information are essential

Tomáš Petříček, photo: Michaela Danelová, Czech Radio

Czech citizens living in the UK have just over a year to register for “settled status” in order be allowed to remain resident in the country post-Brexit. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown many people’s plans haywire. Many feel an urge to be with their families back home, others fear for their jobs which they considered secure just a few months ago. The Czech Foreign Ministry says that at this difficult time Czech expats in the UK need to consider their situation carefully and get information from reliable sources before coming to a decision. I spoke to Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček about the ministry’s efforts to assist them in this process.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Peterborough,  photo: Dave Hitchborne,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 2.0
“We have been following their situation since we learnt the conditions for long-term settlement of our citizens in the UK. We know that so far 37,000 Czech citizens have already registered for “settled status”. I want to stress that it is still possible to apply for settled status via a mobile app. The problem currently is the unavailability of the respective authorities; our people have nowhere to go to ask questions and clarify things if they do not know what processes they need to follow. We are trying to help them through our consulate and embassy and our associations in key centres like Leeds or Peterborough.”

So how many people remain who have not yet settled their status –are we talking about 40,000 people?

“Our estimate is 40,000 citizens who have yet to register. Altogether the number of Czech citizens living in the UK long term is around 80,000 to 90,000. We do not know how many of them do not intend to register, but I would expect that the vast majority will want to remain in the country.”

Photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Matt Dunham
Has the pandemic slowed down the respective administrative processes in Great Britain? Does it take longer now to acquire “settled status”?

“According to the information I have, the process is ongoing, the only challenge right now is that there are no open offices where our citizens can go to clarify the details of how they can proceed with the registration. That is why we are supporting them via our most active associations, such as those in Leeds and Peterborough, our Czech schools, because via them we can also reach our citizens. The truth is that we are doing our best to deliver the message to our community in the UK which tends to read Facebook, social networks and the tabloid press for information, so we are trying to use all possible channels to inform them about what they can do.”

Photo: Fernando Zhiminaicela,  Pixabay / CC0
Many Czechs there are now worried about getting infected with the COVID 19 virus, getting adequate care, some are thinking about coming home to the Czech Republic where the situation appears to have been brought under control. What are the risks of returning if they have not settled their status in the UK?

“First of all I would like to stress that we are not seeing any mass movements of people from the UK to Czechia. Our colleagues from the Czech Consulate General in Manchester see only four to five families a week who ask for substitute travel documents indicating that they want to travel to the Czech Republic, and that number does not differ much from that at our embassy in London. In terms of the possible implications for the registration process, many of our citizens still do not have the respective documents they need for registration (a passport, national identity card or biometric residence card) or else their documents are outdated. By moving back to the Czech Republic they can delay the whole process and I want to call on them not to leave things till the last moment. Our capacities are also limited in terms of dealing with all the administrative applications for documents needed for the registration.”

Photo: PublicDomainPictures,  Pixabay / CC0
What about those who packed their bags and returned to the Czech Republic because of the crisis, but still want to live and work permanently in Great Britain?

“First of all, they need to follow the developments in the UK. We are providing some information on our embassy’s website and that of our consulate general about the conditions, about the restrictions applied in the UK, that also have implications for travelling back to Great Britain. I would also urge them to gain objective information from the UK authorities about the country’s future exit strategy. Many of our citizens were left jobless, many were employed by various agencies, just like Ukrainians here in the Czech Republic, and lost their income due to the crisis. So we will need to see how fast the economy in the UK will start to recover from the pandemic.”

Finally, how would you assess the talks aimed at establishing a new framework for business relations and cooperation post-Brexit? Are you happy with the way they are going, with the progress made?

“We would like to see very close economic and business relations between the EU and the UK after the end of this year. To tell you the truth, we would like to be flexible if we are not able to reach a good agreement and maybe see if there is the possibility to get some additional time to discuss the issues that are on the table. We do not want to evaluate the talks at present since the situation is complicated by the coronavirus crisis. The talks cannot take place physically and the negotiating teams are in contact via online platforms, but this is not the best way of discussing very sensitive issues including trade and economic relations between both sides.”