Woman who arrived in the UK as a baby 45 years ago fights for the right to work | Immigration and asylum

A Spanish-born woman who has lived in England for 45 years is still fighting for the right to work in the UK, a year after she was made redundant from her job at a care home because she was unable to prove that she had valid immigration status.

The 46-year-old, who arrived in Britain aged 11 months and has never left the country, has been trying to get EU settlement status since her employers made her redundant in June last, as they enforced post-Brexit right-to-work regulations.

Her uncertain immigration status prevented her from claiming unemployment benefits, which put her in debt. As the main breadwinner, her inability to work left her struggling to support her two teenage children and forced her to depend on her stepmother’s pension.

“It’s been very stressful indeed,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “I don’t sleep well because I’m worried about the money. There is a gas bill this week for £160. There is not always enough food for everyone.

Her husband is British, as are her two children. “I don’t think I should have to go through all this. I went to school here, I’ve worked in this country since I was 18, 27 years of tax payments that they could check.

Her case was highlighted by the Guardian last summer, but despite the Home Office saying her rights must be protected while her application is considered, she has failed to persuade her employers to rehire her. Her case was caught in a backlog of around 400,000 unresolved applications to the Home Office’s EU-established status scheme, and she did not receive an official response to her application until last March, at which time she had been unemployed for eight months.

He was told that his application could not be accepted without proof of identity. She has never traveled abroad and never needed a passport; he was told that his driver’s license and Spanish birth certificate were not sufficient proof of identity.

Born in Spain to a Spanish father and an Italian mother, she contacted both embassies in the UK for help. The Italian Embassy told her she would have to apply for citizenship based on descent, which could take up to 10 years. She said the Spanish consulate told her she should have claimed Spanish citizenship before she turned 18; Authorities have asked for her 94-year-old father’s Spanish passport, but she hasn’t seen him since the 1980s and doesn’t know where he lives or even if he’s still alive.

She does not speak Spanish and has been troubled by the process of applying for Spanish residency in the UK which requires her to fill in forms in Spanish. She is now assisted by a Spanish-speaking social worker from the employment charity Work Rights Centre.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The EU settlement program has been a resounding success, with over 5.9 million granted status. EU citizens whose identity has not been verified but who applied before the deadline of June 30, 2021 are protected and we have social workers who will work closely with those who have not resolved their status.

But the woman said she had not received adequate support. “I expected the Home Office to contact me and say, ‘Let’s get this straightened out and get back to business’. I didn’t think I would be going through this again a year later. I’m angry, there were a lot of tears. I cannot provide for my family,” she said.

EU citizens’ rights campaigners say his case is not unique and say large numbers of people are still waiting in the backlog of unsolved cases, which currently stands at around 225,000, have equally complex claims and have been pushed into financial hardship while awaiting a decision.

His predicament recalls the challenges faced by thousands of the Windrush generation who struggled to persuade the Home Office that they were legally in the UK, despite having lived here for 40 or 50 years. The Home Office has presented a “comprehensive plan for improvement” in response to the Windrush scandal, promising greater compassion, comprehensive cultural change and promising to “see the face” behind every immigration application.

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Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the Work Rights Centre, said: “I am extremely concerned for the thousands of EU citizens who are still awaiting an outcome on their EUSS claims. The Home Office needs to speed up these decisions and give people with complex claims a real shot at getting their status, not present them with bureaucratic hurdles that keep them in limbo for months.

Luke Piper, policy officer at the3million, a grassroots EU citizens’ organization in the UK, said: ‘It is shameful that people are being treated so unfairly by the Home Office. It is clear that someone who has lived legally in the UK since childhood should be able to continue their life as normal after Brexit. Safeguards are failing too many people, and jobs and rental opportunities are being lost, travel is difficult and EU citizens are suffering.

The Spanish Embassy in London said it was unable to comment.

“England is the only country I have ever known,” the woman added. “This is my home. I don’t know what more I’m supposed to do to prove it.

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