With the advent of Brexit, people will doubtless have read of the chaos and uncertainty facing European Union nationals resident in the UK who are seeking to regularise their status under the Home Office’s Settled Status scheme.
But if the situation is difficult and confusing for people with clearly demarcated EU citizenship rights, it is worse still for those non-EEA nationals who have derived their rights to reside in the UK on the basis of their relationships to EU citizens exercising their treaty rights in the UK.
One such is ‘Jane’, a Ghanaian national first granted 5 years’ rights to reside in the UK back in 2010 on the basis of her relationship to her then French citizen partner. Jane has since secured another 5 years’ right to reside in this country on the same basis, this right of residence still being valid.
The relationship, however has now broken down: Jane and her 12 year old son, Steven, have been abandoned by her erstwhile partner, whose whereabouts she does not know. And since she doesn’t know where he is, she cannot prove that he is exercising his EU treaty rights- which is to say, that he is in work, or seeking work. And since she cannot do that, she cannot access Universal Credit, or a host of other public funds.
Jane is, however, working: she has two jobs, a morning job and an evening job, from which she take home about £450 per month. The rent on the family’s one bedroom- or, to be exact, one bed- accommodation is £250 per month. Since Jane cannot access welfare benefits, Steven is not eligible for free school meals.
One of Jane’s jobs requires her to be out every evening from 5pm until 10pm. This means that Steven is left unattended for 5 hours each night.
The family has accrued rent arrears- as a consequence of which they are facing eviction and homelessness. Children’s Services, to whom we have referred the family, have advised us that they do not consider the present state of affairs to constitute a safeguarding concern since, they tell us, Jane has put ‘a safety plan’ in place to protect Steven from potential harm. By this, on exploration, they mean that she telephones to check that he is OK during her tea-break.
There should, theoretically, be a way out of this precarious and miserable situation. Under the Home Office’s EU Settled Status Scheme, Jane is eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, allowing her access to public funds and a route out of the family’s present poverty. This is because she has demonstrably been present in the UK for in excess of 5 years, with a right to right deriving from her estranged partner’s exercise of EU treaty rights.
Accordingly, we helped her to make an application for Settled Status in early July. Being aware that the Home Office has committed to processing such applications within a matter of days, we chased a progress update on this application 2 weeks later. We received no reply- although Jane has told us that she received a telephone call from a Home Office worker, advising her that she is likely to be granted pre-settled status, rather than full settlement, according her significantly fewer rights.. There has been no coherent explanation for why this should be the case.
In late July, we received correspondence from the Home Office, asking for evidence of that Jane had been in a relationship with her then EU national partner back in 2010- evidence which, by definition, the Home Office had already seen 9 years ago, enabling them to grant her derivative residence rights in the first place.
We wrote back in early August, pointing out that the Home Office was already fully aware of the length of time she had lawfully been resident in the UK, and the basis on which that right of residence had been granted- and that she should not, therefore, be expected effectively to reapply for an immigration status already legitimately granted to her. We, further, provided the Home Office with Jane’s original Ghanaian passport, clearly endorsed by the Home Office with a visa allowing her 5 years’ residence rights as the partner of a European Union citizen.
And still we are waiting for a response.
There is no tangible reason why this should be so difficult. The Home Office has set out clear enough guidelines on its Settled Status application process, and Jane has received the assistance of regulated immigration advisors, providing full and detailed evidence of her immigration history, her previous grants of status, and her eligibility for settlement under the published terms of the scheme.
And still she is exposed to months of uncertainty, entering into ever more debt, and becoming ever more anxious about her family’s future, and her son’s wellbeing.
The evidence to date, in other words, suggests that many Home Office caseworkers don’t fully understand their own published policy guidance documents.
And if that’s the case, what hope is therefor people trying to navigate Settled Status applications without legal representation, during the febrile climate of the pre-Brexit hostile environment?