Spanish-born woman sacked from care home after being unable to prove immigration status
A Spanish-born woman who has lived in England for 45 years is still fighting to secure the right to work in the UK, a year after being sacked from her job in a care home because she was unable to prove she had a valid immigration status.
The 46-year-old woman, who arrived in Britain as an 11-month-old baby and who has never left the country, has been trying to secure EU settled status since her employers dismissed her last June, as they enforced post-Brexit right-to-work regulations.
Her uncertain immigration status has left her unable to claim unemployment benefit, pushing her into debt. As the family’s main bread-winner, her inability to work has left her struggling to support her two teenage children, and forced her to rely on handouts from her mother-in-law’s pension.
“It has been very stressful indeed,” the woman, who asked not to be named, said. “I’m not sleeping well because I worry about money. There’s a gas bill this week for £160. There isn’t always enough for food for everyone.”
Her husband is British, as are both her children. “I don’t think I should be having to go through all of this. I went to school here, I’ve been working in this country since I was 18, there are 27 years of tax payments they could check.”
Her case was highlighted by the Guardian last summer, but although the Home Office said then her rights should be protected while her claim was considered, she was unable to persuade her employers to rehire her. Her case was caught in a backlog of about 400,000 unresolved applications to the Home Office’s EU settled status scheme, and she did not receive a formal response to her application until this March, by which point she had been out of work for eight months.
She was told that her application could not be accepted without a form of ID. She has never travelled abroad and has never needed a passport; she was told that her driving licence and Spanish birth certificate were not adequate proof of ID.
Born in Spain to a Spanish father and an Italian mother, she has contacted both embassies in the UK for assistance. The Italian embassy told her she would need to apply for nationality based on descent which could take up to 10 years. She said the Spanish consulate told her she should have claimed Spanish nationality before she turned 18; officials requested her 94-year-old father’s Spanish passport, but she has not seen him since the 1980s and does not know where he lives or even if he is still alive.
She speaks no Spanish and has been confused by the process to apply to become a Spanish national resident in the UK which requires her to fill in forms in Spanish. She is now being assisted by a Spanish-speaking case worker at the Work Rights Centre employment charity.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU Settlement Scheme has been an overwhelming success, with more than 5.9 million grants of status made. EU citizens whose identity has not been verified but who made an application by the deadline of 30 June 2021 are protected and we have caseworkers who will work closely with those who haven’t resolved their status.”
But the woman said she had not received adequate support. “I expected the Home Office to get in touch and say: ‘Let’s get this sorted out and get you back into work’. I didn’t think I would still be going through this a year later. I’m angry, there have been a lot of tears. I can’t support my family,” she said.
Campaigners for EU citizens’ rights say that her case is not unique, and state that a large number of people still waiting in the backlog of unresolved cases, which now stands at about 225,000, have similarly complex applications, and have been pushed into financial difficulty while they wait for a decision.
Her predicament is reminiscent of the challenges faced by thousands of Windrush generation people who struggled to persuade the Home Office that they were in the UK legally, despite having lived here for 40 or 50 years. The Home Office introduced a “comprehensive improvement plan” in response to the Windrush scandal, pledging greater compassion, complete cultural change and promising to “see the face” behind each immigration application.
Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the Work Rights Centre, said: “I’m extremely worried for the thousands of EU citizens who are still awaiting an outcome on their EUSS applications. The Home Office needs to expedite these decisions, and give people with complex applications a real chance to secure their status, not present them with bureaucratic hurdles that keep them in limbo for months.”
Luke Piper, head of policy at the3million, a grassroots organisation of EU citizens in the UK, said: “It is shameful for people to be treated so unfairly by the Home Office. It is clear that someone who has lived lawfully in the UK since they were a baby should be able to go on with their lives as normal after Brexit. Safeguards are failing too many people, and jobs and renting opportunities are lost, travel is fraught and EU citizens are suffering.”
The Spanish embassy in London said it was unable to comment.
“England is the only country I’ve ever known,” the woman added. “This is my home. I don’t know what more I’m supposed to do to prove it.”