Apr 19, 2018 News
UK (www.theguardian.com/uk)- Escalating Home Office immigration fees are jeopardising the futures of many young people from Commonwealth countries who have lawfully grown up in the UK, putting them at risk of becoming “illegal”, say campaigners.
In the wake of the Windrush scandal, 16-to-24-year-olds have called on Amber Rudd, the home secretary, to “freeze our fees” in a Downing Street protest designed to highlight how lawful young migrants are also under threat from the government’s hostile environment policy.
Chanting “We are not a money tree” and wearing “young, gifted and blocked” T-shirts, campaign group Let Us Learn said since 2014 fees to apply for limited leave to remain (LLR) had increased by 238% to £2,033, which must be paid every 30 months.
This figure includes an NHS surcharge, which has doubled from £500 to £1,000.
It can require four successful LLR applications over 10 years before people can apply for indefinite leave to remain – a process that, as it stands, will cost £10,521 per individual, without factoring in future fee rises and legal costs.
The sums were well beyond the reach of ordinary families – the same as a deposit for a house for a family of four – and were forcing some parents to prioritise one child over another, campaigners said.
Those who could not pay were classed as undocumented, meaning they cannot work or access student finance, and could be denied some secondary healthcare.
Most were shocked to learn of their status only on applying for university. Tanya (not her real name), 22, originally from Nigeria, who came to the UK aged eight, said she applied to study law at university but found she was not entitled to student finance. Her mother, a low-paid caregiver, managed to scrape together enough for her LLR fees, but not for her sister, 18.
“I feel like I have failed my sister, even though it’s not my fault because she is now in this situation. She can’t access student finance. She can’t work. She is basically in limbo,” said Tanya, who has a part-time job to cover her fees.
“My mum and I have just opened an account and we are trying to put in every month to save enough for my sister”.
The way the Home Office kept changing the rules and raising the fees meant there was constant fear and anxiety, she said. “This is ruining people’s lives, it really is. My mother has to take out a loan just for the next application. And it doesn’t end.
“It’s constant, and it gets too much. I’ve got my part-time job, but that was meant to survive at university. Now I am going to have to use that money to help out my sister. It’s a lot and it’s really ruining lives.”
Fiona Bawdon, of Just For Kids Law, said there were a variety of reasons why these young people found themselves in this situation. They were bright, talented and educated, hoping to make great contributions to the society in which they had grown up. They were lawfully here, but their future was in jeopardy if they could not meet the fees, she said. “Nobody wanted that, but it is an unintended consequence of the policy.”
Most Let Us Learn members have been granted LLR, but have to reapply every 30 months. The process involves completing a 60-page application form, and no legal aid for lawyers’ fees is available.
Adebola Lamuye, 22, originally from Nigeria, who arrived in the UK aged eight, said she was “completely shocked” when she discovered that she had to apply for LLR when she applied to university at 18. It took the Home Office 15 months to respond to her application, she said. “In that period I couldn’t work, I couldn’t study. I couldn’t do anything. I just locked myself up in a room. I wanted to go to university but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do.”
Now a journalism apprentice, hoping to go to university next year, she said she had to have three years LLR to be eligible for student finance. She and her sister had to beg from family and friends to meet the fees.
Likewise Andrew, 22, originally from Guyana, discovered his situation after being accepted to study law at five of the UK’s top universities. “I was like everyone else I grew up with. I went to school, I enjoyed school, I studied hard to be a lawyer.
And then …” He was floored by the shock, he said. “At that point, life was just very, very depressing for myself and my brother.” He said his mother worried constantly about meeting the fees in the future. “This whole situation – it demonises you. You are scared. You believe you are a criminal even though you are not.”
Chrisann Jarrett of Let Us Learn said many of its members were from Commonwealth countries and had come here as young children. “Yet when we turned 18, we found out the government regards us as international students, which means we are charged higher fees than home students and do not qualify for student loans. On top of that, we have to pay higher and higher fees to maintain our lawful status, without which we would be denied NHS care and liable to removal from the country we are proud to call home.”
Kamena Dorling, from Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said there were more and more cases of parents having to choose which child to pay for. “They have to make a judgment call over which child is the most urgent,” she said, usually because that child is approaching 18 and will soon be seen as an adult and the “risk of removal” becomes more serious. “It means there is constant uncertainty in terms of that child’s future,” she added.
Dorling also said that in the meantime, the Home Office continued to make a profit out of fees that far exceeded the cost of processing them.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
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