When Jageer Ali travelled to Pakistan in November last year, he intended to stay for 10 days. He was visiting family and he had to return to the UK, his home of 12 years, to get back to his job as a store manager in Pret a Manger. But when he tried to board his early morning flight back to London, the 39-year-old was shocked to be told that he couldn’t return home.
The Pakistani national, who has EU settled status by virtue of his ex-wife, an EU national, was informed by airline staff that he needed additional documentation – a valid biometric residency card (BRC) – in order to re-enter the UK. Jageer had one of these but it had expired. He had been led to believe by communication from the Home Office that he could travel on his digital-only EU settled status.
Six weeks later, the London resident is still stuck in Pakistan. He is at risk of losing his job. He contacted the Home Office after being denied entry on the flight and was told to apply for an immigration document called a BRP card – at a cost of £250. But this was rejected because the application must be made from within the UK. He did not get reimbursed.
“I don’t know what to do. I keep calling the Home Office and I have to explain my situation again each time, and they always come up with something different. Sometimes they say they don’t know what needs to be done. How can I find a solution?” says Jageer.
“My boss is asking me what is going on, when I will be back at work. I really don’t know. It’s very stressful. I’m still paying rent on my London flat. I won’t get any income this month. I cannot find a way out of this situation. I just need to go home.”
Jageer is one of many non-EU nationals who have travelled abroad in the belief that their EU settled status – a form of immigration status granted to EU citizens and their family members in the UK after Brexit – is enough to prove their immigration status, but have been blocked from coming back into the country. The government guidance around this is confusing, and there has been a lack of clear information to address the situation they find themselves in.
To confuse things further, a document people receive when they are granted EU settled status states that it means they can “travel in and out of the country without having to prove your status, as your information will be check automatically”. An email sent by the Home Office to all EU settled status holders last year stated: “You don’t need to do anything if you will be travelling to or from the UK and you have EUSS settled or pre-settled status”. Lawyers say this constitutes “misleading” information and have called for those affected to be compensated.
Italian national Cristina Feretti and her young children were unable to spend Christmas with her husband, Cameroonian national Christian Nkoyoh, after he was prevented from boarding a return flight from Italy.
Christian had been led to believe he could travel without a valid BRP card. After being refused onto the flight, he too was wrongly advised by the Home Office to apply for a BRP which got rejected because he was outside the UK, at a cost of several hundred pounds. He was then told that he must apply for a travel document known as an EUSS family permit, which he did, but this took two months to arrive.
During Christian’s absence, Cristina also was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. “I was alone the day I was told. It destroyed us,” she says. “Being alone here with my two kids, especially during the Christmas holidays, was so hard for me. I was already having symptoms. I really struggled.
“We aren’t the kind of people who do the wrong thing. We would never try to get ourselves into trouble. We just did not know, because there is nowhere that explains this properly.”
In a third case, Russian national Victoria Krayushkina, 32, who has lived in Britain for nine years, has been unable to return home for three months after she was prevented from boarding a flight after visiting family in Russia because she didn’t have a valid BRC card.
“I was told I didn’t need another BRC and that I didn’t have to apply for a new one. My digital status says I can ‘travel in and out of the UK without having to prove my status’. I’ve already travelled abroad since my one expired and had no trouble coming back,” she said.
The 32-year-old has been unable to do her job, and has had to continue paying rent for a London flat that she is not currently able to live in.
Ms Krayushkina said: “The situation has made financial planning really difficult, and it’s hard being out of my routine. I didn’t pack much. I’ve had to ask friends to take in my cat ... The uncertainty is driving me mad. I’m full-time employed, I’m paying all the taxes. I don’t see why I deserve separate treatment.”
Luke Piper, head of policy and advocacy at the3million, said: “People are in dreadful situations, unable to return to their homes in the UK, due to inconsistent and misleading communication from the Home Office. This has significant emotional and financial consequences. Some of them will have spent thousands hunkering down in countries they don’t live in. They should be compensated.”
Andrew Jordan, immigration advice manager at charity Settled, said the issue demonstrated that the Home Office’s “unwillingness” to issue a physical document to EU settlement holders is creating problems.
“It may work in theory, but not in practice. The Home Office has been warned about these problems repeatedly, from the beginning, but they refuse to change course,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The letter non-EEA individuals receive when granted status under the EUSS states that when they come back into the UK after travelling abroad, they must present their valid passport and biometric residence card at the UK border.
“We are reviewing the guidance for non-EEA individuals granted EUSS status, to ensure it is clear on the steps they need to take when travelling in and out of the UK.”
They added that they do not routinely comment on individual cases and that each family permit application was considered as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but that processing times could vary depending on the volume and complexity of applications.
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