Tens of thousands of people in the UK could be being denied their rights to employment, study and benefits because the Home Office is failing to provide them with proper documents.
The treatment of these people, who are foreign nationals living lawfully in the UK, is the subject of a judicial review being brought against the government.
The charity Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex & London (Ramfel), which has brought the legal action, has estimated that many thousands of people are being wrongly suspended from work or are facing significant detriment while they wait for their visas to be extended.
Foreign nationals who are legally in the UK on “leave to remain” have to renew their status every few years and, while they wait for a decision, they are put on “3C leave”. This is meant to protect the rights they have to work, study or claim benefits but it leaves them without a physical document confirming their status – something many employers insist on seeing.
The government says that they have made it clear to employers that they should not discriminate against people on 3C leave, but the reality is that many people are denied their rights. The Home Office does not publish data on the number of people on 3C leave, and says that leave-to-remain applicants should receive a decision within eight weeks.
Limited leave to remain allows people to live and work in the UK until their visa expires, typically for two-and-a-half years at a time. Foreign nationals who want to permanently settle in the UK often use the “10-year route”, which allows someone to apply to stay in the UK permanently after they have lived in the country for 10 years on leave-to-remain visas.
Charity Ramfel is arguing in court that there is “no rational basis” for the government not to implement changes to protect those on 3C leave. Since 1 September 2022 the small charity has had to intervene 135 times in cases where people on 3C leave were being denied their rights, putting them at risk of destitution.
Of the people in these 135 cases, at least 10 (around 7.5 per cent) suffered serious detriment, with seven of those wrongly suspended or denied work. If this was replicated for the number of people nationwide with 3C leave status, the charity estimates that at least 27,901 people would have been denied their rights.
The charity said that a lot of people working in the care sector are affected by these problems and many west Africans approach them for help, although this could be because of where they are based in Essex and London.
According to the Migration Observatory, during the years 2016-20, just over half of the main applicants granted status on the 10-year family route to UK resettlement were from Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Ghana and Bangladesh.
One Nigerian mother-of-three told The Independent how she had lost out on a good job while she was on 3C leave, and how her 18-year-old daughter was unable to get student finance.
Ms Ajibola, 43, explained how she got through an interview for a better-paying support worker job in the care sector but was unable to progress as she didn’t have a Biometric Residence Card because she was on 3C leave. This meant she was unable to provide the employer with a code that would have allowed them to check her right to work.
She explained: “I missed that opportunity and the job had already gone when we finally got our leave-to-remain status renewed in December.”
She had submitted an application to renew her and her daughter’s leave-to-remain visa in March 2023, but it took nine months for the Home Office to approve their extension. “It’s sad to think about because we have the right to be in this country, but people think that we don’t because we didn’t have the right paperwork”, she said. “It made my daughter very stressed, and I had to explain to her that it was not me, it was the Home Office. It was sad, that’s the only word that can describe it. Other people are having opportunities, and we couldn’t have those opportunities.”
Her daughter wanted to study pharmacy but wasn’t able to take up her offers from university because student finance refused to give her a loan. Ms Ajibola explained: “The student finance wanted a valid BRP card. We went to the charity Ramfel and they gave us a letter to show that we were on section 3C so our rights stayed the same but the student finance still refused.
“She didn’t end up going to university and she tried to apply for jobs in the meantime at Tesco and other places but she had the same problem. It was so horrible for us then. I was really unhappy and my daughter became depressed because all of her friends are in university right now and she’s not.”
Ms Ajibola is hoping that her daughter will be able to go to university in the next academic year now that their leave-to-remain status has been renewed.
Sairah Javed, a solicitor at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the charity has people constantly coming to it for help with problems faced on 3C leave.
In recent cases, one person had problems with student finance and another with accessing benefits. Ms Javed said: “We had a stark case where someone was on 3C leave and had their PIP benefits ended by DWP. That was really quite difficult.
“There was a lot of back and forth between DWP and our solicitor and it took three to four months to get our client’s benefits reinstated.”
She added that landlords often find it hard to rent to people with 3C leave status. “A person on 3C can undergo right-to-rent checks but it takes a long time. The guidance directs landlords to delay entering into a tenancy agreement until they get confirmation of someone’s immigration status through the landlord checking service.
“This can be very problematic and puts people at a considerable disadvantage. If you couple that with rising rents, which is making it more likely that people will be moving houses, people can end up in very precarious situations.”
She explained that it can often take between nine and 12 months for people to have their visas renewed, with an added three to four months if they need to waive the cost of applying.
Nick Beales, at Ramfel, said: “The government assured everyone they had learned from the Windrush scandal, but this case shows that those words were hollow and meaningless. They have learned nothing and are more than happy for history to repeat itself.
“The hostile environment sees people on 3C leave suspended from work and denied other basic services on a grand scale. What’s worse, the government knows this and is not only doing nothing to protect these people but wasting public money defending its conduct in court.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the figures being quoted.
“Our guidance is clear that those who have submitted an application for further leave in the UK before their existing leave has expired have the same entitlements as their original leave. Individuals should be given every opportunity to demonstrate their rights and must not be discriminated against.
“There are a range of channels by which a person’s entitlement to employment, study and other benefits can be confirmed.”