There are growing concerns over the relatively low numbers of EU citizens in Wales who have applied for post-Brexit settled status.
Leading Welsh politicians are worried some people have not applied because they are upset over anti-migration rhetoric and fear that a sudden loss of EU citizens could lead to shortages of workers in some key sectors.
The Labour politician David Rees, who is leading a debate on the issue in the Welsh assembly on Wednesday, said a clear message needed to go out to EU citizens that they were welcome in Wales and across the UK.
Rees, the chair of the assembly’s external affairs committee, said: “It is a concerning situation. We want to make sure all EU citizens in Wales apply in sufficient time and can receive settled status.
“People want to stay – they want to remain part of the community they live in and the Welsh economy clearly benefits from them.”
Rees called on the Welsh and UK governments to use more welcoming language. “They have to make sure the messages are as clear as possible. The language being used across parliaments from some individuals has to change.
“We have to be supportive and tackle anyone who gives the impression that people from the EU are not welcome here.”
There are an estimated 3 million citizens from other EU countries, the European Economic Area and Switzerland living in the UK, with about 80,000 in Wales.
Only about 63% of EU citizens in Wales have so far signed up for the settlement scheme, compared with 84% in England and 82% for the UK, according to House of Commons research.
During an inquiry, the Welsh assembly’s external affairs committee heard evidence that many people felt that they were no longer welcome in the UK.
One participant, Michal Poreba, originally from Poland and now living in Swansea, said: “The EU settlement scheme and the UK government’s immigration proposals after Brexit are not simply about administrative processes, they are about people’s lives.
“Real people are involved and it is important to consider how the process affects them and their families. Yet the debate appears to be all about the practicalities of the implementation.
“Going through the process, while technically quite easy and straightforward, feels debilitating and comes with no legal guarantees. No wonder there are no queues to do it.
“The message repeated by politicians appears to be the same – you will be allowed to stay. We want you to stay. Of course, economically speaking they need us to stay, at least for the short-term. But there is a big difference between being allowed to stay, and being welcomed.”