With just three days to go before the deadline for EU citizens who wish to remain living in the UK to apply for EU settled status (EUSS), applicants have described the stress they are experiencing as they submit last-minute applications or wait to hear from the Home Office about whether their applications have been accepted.
They describe the frustration of trying to get through to a Home Office helpline that is often unable to accept calls because of excessive numbers of people seeking advice; many are worried that they may find themselves in a legal limbo, despite government reassurances to the contrary.
About 5 million applicants have already been granted some form of status but, with a backlog of 400,000 last week and 10,000 to 12,000 new applications being made daily, the Home Office admits it will take months to process them all.
The immigration minister, Kevin Foster, pledged on Tuesday that everyone who applied by the 30 June deadline but has not had a decision by then will have their rights legally protected and will have a certificate of application issue to show employers, landlords and the NHS.
But many are distressed about legal limbo, fearing they will become unlawful because of delays, running to months, to “administrative reviews” of rejected applications.
Elena Remigi, of the In Limbo Project, which is documenting the experiences of EU citizens in the UK, said: “The anxiety among EU citizens is palpable. My inbox is full of messages of people asking for reassurance or guidance. Many tell me that all the helplines are busy and they don’t know what to do.”
Nearly all the struggles highlighted here were answered by the Home Office after the Guardian presented it with their cases.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Anyone who has applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by the 30 June deadline, but has not had a decision by then, will have their rights protected until their application is decided. This is set out in law. Dedicated civil servants are working extremely hard to help applicants secure their status, including supporting them to provide the evidence required.”
Silvana Germoni, 71, and her mother, 91
Silvana is typical of many Italians who have been in the country since the 1950s now having to apply to remain lawfully after 60 years in London. Those with independent leave to remain are not obliged to get settled status but, if they have no paperwork to prove they lawfully came to the UK, they are being advised to do so.
Dmitri Scarlato, a film score composer and volunteer with Italian charity INCA CGIL UK in Highbury, London, said: “Silvana came into us a few weeks ago. But she had a problem. Her passport had expired in 1999. So for her we can’t do an application on the phone, we have to do a paper application involving bank statements or council tax records to prove she has been here. People of her age and older may not have that. They may be in a spouse’s name or their bank accounts may have no transactions so do not look active.
“Then we discovered she had a brother who was in the same position. His passport has also expired, and then also their mother who is in a care home suffering dementia. These are typical of the cases we are seeing.”
From 24 June paper applications can be made online but the 20-page online form is full of bugs and they end up making a duplicate application on paper.
Gino Germoni, 70
Gino, who sounds every inch a Londoner, is getting angry with security questions the Home Office wants answered. “What is your favourite film?” “What was your first car.” “What to do they want to know this for? What do they want me to do – go out in the middle of the road in front of a car”? He is very agitated and does not understand why he needs settled status.
“I am Italian but I’ve been here more than 60 years. It’s like I was born here. I now feel like an illegal alien all because of that lying, stuck-up Boris Johnson.
“My mum has got dementia and is 91 years old. What are they going to do to her? Kick her out of the home and throw her into the middle of the ocean? All these years I’ve paid my tax and insurance. It’s pathetic. If I could, I’d pack my bags and leave.”
Annemarie van der Meer, 77
After arriving in London from the Netherlands in 1976, Annemarie ran a successful guest house in north London for decades. She applied for EU settled status in September 2019 but the phone app could not immediately confirm whether she was eligible despite 45 years of residence in the UK. She was so stressed about the different pieces of evidence she had to gather to prove residency that she felt unable to tackle the process. Eventually, with the deadline approaching, she hired a lawyer this month to help with her application; she received the status this week.
“I was asked to submit a maximum of 10 documents proving that I had lived here for five years continuously, but I found the request overwhelming. I’m married to a British national, but I was afraid to go on the wrong track, so I put it on to the back burner until the deadline approached. I’ve been uncharacteristically nervous about it all. I had indefinite leave to remain stamped in an old passport, but that passport is long expired. In the end I went to a lawyer for help. I was really afraid to do it by myself in case I made a mistake. It has been very emotional, because I’ve always felt so completely at ease here. The lawyer helped me to put my bank statements together and make the application. The process has been very stressful.”
Jessicahas been helping her 37-year-old French husband, Paul, apply for EUSS. Paul, who has lived in Britain for 16 years and works in hospitality, submitted an application in February 2020 and is still waiting for a decision 16 months later. The Home Office says that the delay is due to his declaration that he served time in prison in France as an 18-year-old for theft; officials have given no indication of when the situation is likely to be resolved. (They asked for their real names not to be used.)
“It wasn’t anything violent and his record is spent, but if you’ve spent more than a year in prison you have to declare it. It was 19 years ago and he’s embarrassed about it now. He hates what he did, but it’s not who he is now. He’s left all that behind. I’ve printed out a copy of the certificate of application so he could show his employer, and they’re fine with that for the moment, but we don’t know when they will start asking questions. We’ve got two children under four, both British citizens, like me.
“The uncertainty of the situation is really stressful. He’s not someone who shows his stress, but he is checking his email every morning and every evening to see if there’s a decision and it’s on my mind every day. We need to move house, but we can’t because we don’t think we can get a mortgage without this being resolved. I’ve fully convinced myself that he’s going to get deported. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s what comes with being kept in the dark for so long.
Rhiannon Inman-Simpson, 32, and Pete Hillstrom, 34, artist and illustrator
Pete is originally from the US and Rhiannon is from the UK. Under normal circumstances, he would only be allowed into the country under the immigration rules for non-EU nationals. But because Rhiannon has exercised EU treaty rights by living in another EU member state, he qualifies to be in the country as a family member of an EU citizen under what are known as the Surinder Singh rules. The couple have been together for 11 years and lived in Bergen, Norway, for six years.
“Our experience has been a nightmare: confusing, frustrating and unbelievably slow. My partner is now stuck in immigration limbo, trapped in a system. He applied for pre-settled status in November 2020. In March 2021, after four months of waiting, he received a refusal from the Home Office. He applied for an administrative review on 16 March since we believe this was clearly a wrong decision and that a mistake was made by a case officer. He is still waiting for a decision 100 days later.
“We have done everything possible to try to get answers from the Home Office – filed formal complaints, asked our MP to repeatedly push for a decision, written to the admin review team, called the resolution centre multiple times a week. Both us and our MP are given the same scripted response every time – that it is not possible to get any kind of update on our application because of the delays. It has taken on average two hours to get through to the resolution centre over the past weeks.
“Until recently the Home Office was obliged to give applicants a time frame if the admin review went over 28 days. They say they are no longer able to provide this, leaving applicants completely in the dark. These delays will cause untold distress and uncertainty for people waiting beyond the 30 June deadline.”
Karolina Bylicka, 30, Polish
As one of 120 volunteers with a charity, Settled, Karolina is spending six hours a day after her day job helping other Polish nationals struggling with the settled status concept. Among those most in need are parents who have “no clue” that separate applications need to be made for their children.
“I had a lady with four kids whose passports had expired and because the mother is not living with their father they cannot easily get new passports because under Polish law both parents have to present themselves during the application, or have permission from a family court or solicitor. That is quite expensive. Because their passports are expired we have to do paper applications for each child, with a birth certificate for each and a letter from the school for each to say they had been in the country in the last six months of 2020. This woman said people around her had been telling her, ‘oh your children will be fine’. We are still finding people asking: do I have to apply for my children with just days to go.”