The Broken Brexit Promises Leaving Loved Ones In Limbo
Sian Norris reports on how delays to family permits for spouses, parents and children of EU nationals and British citizens in the UK are causing families untold emotional distress
“It makes me furious that there is no support to care for people like us to be able to have our loved ones near us when they really need us,” said Marie (not her real name). “We have a good income. We have settled status. I’m not trying to use or abuse the system. I’m simply trying to have my loved one near me.”
Marie is an EU national with settled status in the UK whose mother lives in mainland Europe. When Marie’s father died and her mother was diagnosed with dementia, she planned to bring her mother to the UK. Before Brexit, such a decision would have been straightforward under freedom of movement rules.
But, for the past six months, Marie has been trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare waiting for a family permit for her mother to come to Britain – and her parent’s health has worsened.
“The physical deterioration I’ve seen in mum in the six months we’ve been waiting for her visa is incredible,” Marie told Byline Times. “I need my mum with me.”
The family permit scheme means that an individual living in Europe “may be able to get an EU Settlement Scheme family permit to come to the UK if you’re the family member of someone from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein… The family members of some British citizens can also get a permit”.
Once an individual has a family permit and is in the UK, they can apply for the EU Settlement Scheme.
Byline Times has spoken to a number of people who, like Marie, have faced multiple delays to bringing their loved ones to the UK on a family permit – with devastating impacts on mental health and emotional wellbeing.
The system, Marie and migrant rights campaigners believe, contradicts promises that EU citizens rights would not be negatively affected by Britain leaving the European Union.
“We were told that Brexit wouldn’t cause any distress or problems to us,” said Marie. “They said that for those of us who chose to stay in the UK, it would not affect us in any way. Well, how is this situation with my mum meeting that promise?”
One of the many barriers Marie has encountered in her journey to secure her mother’s family permit involved getting the required paperwork.
In order to apply for the permit, individuals need to submit biometric data to the Home Office. In the country where Marie’s mother lives, there is only one centre offering biometric data processing and it was not easily accessible for an elderly and disabled woman.
“We had to walk down long corridors which was hard for mum,” Marie said. “When we finally got to the desk, they told us they were having technical difficulties and we should come back later. I wasn’t going to put mum through another journey like that so we waited.”
Having finally submitted the data, Marie returned home to the UK and waited. But the permit didn’t come through. When she questioned the Home Office, she was told that it had not been processed and that they needed to start the process again.
Such stories come as no surprise to Laurentiu. Originally from Romania, he is now a British citizen. Having applied for his wife to join him at the start of 2020, it would be 15 months before she finally got her permit to come to the UK.
Unlike Marie’s mother, Laurentiu’s wife is not from the EU. However, immigration rules state that non-EEA (European Economic Area) citizens can be given entry clearance to the UK “in the form of the EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit to join a relevant EEA citizen or a qualifying British citizen”.
“Non-EU family members are firstly faced with a two step process, waiting significantly long periods of time to first be issued with a family permit to be able to travel and join their family in the UK, and then a status decision,” said Andreea Dumitrache, of the campaigning group the3million. “Meanwhile, their rights are being questioned and commonly misunderstood by employers and landlords.”
“I didn’t want to take any risks, so I uploaded all the documents – even ones the Home Office didn’t ask for,” Laurentiu told Byline Times. “They said it would take 14 days. It took 15 months.”
Laurentiu complained to the Home Office and was told that his complaint would be dealt with within 20 days – but once again he was forced to wait for longer than this.
“My wife started to think I didn’t want her to join me,” he told Byline Times. “Because at every stage there were these delays.”
Laurentiu eventually took the Home Office to court through a judicial review, which it lost. “If I make a mistake I lose my job,” he said. “But the Home Office is not responsible for its mistakes. It is wasting public money.”
For Laurentiu, the final indignity came when the Home Office told him that the reason his wife’s visa was delayed was because of technical difficulties printing his wife’s documents.
In two letters sent last year and seen by Byline Times, the Home Office explains that Laurentiu’s wife’s application “has been granted” and “we are yet to print her visa”. The letter assures Laurentiu that “a very high level and technical solution is being sought to this printing problem but we have no specific time frame for when this will be solved”.
A second letter sent three weeks later explained that it would not be possible for his wife to “re-enrol her biometrics within the next five days, and for her visa to be printed the same day” due to “technical issues” which are “close to being resolved”.
According to Laurentiu’s solicitor, this was the first time that he had heard of the Home Office saying that the visa could not be printed due to technical issues.
“This is the UK,” Laurentiu added. “I pay taxes, I work, I am a good citizen, and the Government treats me this way.”
Thankfully, Laurentiu has been reunited with his wife who is now expecting a baby. But the family remains in legal limbo – she has been waiting nearly a year to get pre-settled status.
On the other side of the world in Pakistan, Kashi shares Laurentiu’s frustrations.
Having met, fallen in love with and lived with a Polish woman who has settled status in the UK, Kashi had plans to get a family permit so that the pair could build a life together. To do so, he was advised first to return to Pakistan.
“I was told I would be waiting two to three months,” Kashi said. “That was in September and it’s now April.”
Like Laurentiu and Marie, bureaucratic failures have made life harder for Kashi and his partner.
“In December I was told there had been a decision on my application,” he said. “Then I was told that was an error, there was no decision. The same thing happened in March. I was told they had made a decision and then that this was a mistake.”
“I submitted all the documents, pictures, utility bills from when I lived in the UK as a student, and my passport,” he continued. “This is not a complex case. There is no communication from the Home Office regarding my application since submission. I have a very clear positive history with the UK Border Agency as I have been issued student and visitor visas, and have never broken immigration rules.”
Hardest for Kashi has been living apart from his partner. “We are strong and we hope we can be together soon,” he said. “But it’s emotionally really hard and we miss each other.”
“EU citizens were promised that our rights would be upheld in the UK,” said the3million’s Andreea Dumitrache. “People are now facing very long periods of uncertainty, even years in some cases, trying to exercise their family reunion rights.
“We are seeing how families are being split apart for long periods of time, with dire consequences. People are unable to care for ill and elderly family members for months on end. New parents are unable to see their newborn babies. Vulnerable young adults are at risk of destitution as they wait to join family in the UK.”
She urges the Government to “properly resource the EU Settlement Scheme and uphold their duties under the Withdrawal Agreement”.
As for Laurentiu, the last he heard was that the Home Office would have a decision on his wife’s case within four weeks. That was more than a month ago.
The Home Office told Byline Times that it would only be able to provide a comment for this article if the names and preferably reference numbers of the people interviewed were provided. As some sources wished to be anonymous, this newspaper was not able to do so.