Sara Bajraktari, an Italian national who turns 11 next month, has been told by the Home Office that she is not eligible for post-Brexit immigration status under the EU settlement scheme, even though her parents have been living in the UK since last year and have that status.
She and her brother, Erik, 16, moved to the UK to join their parents earlier this month after staying with relatives in Italy to finish their school year – but while he was granted settlement, Sara was refused.
Following Brexit, EU citizens who wish to stay in Britain must apply for the new form of status through the scheme by 30 June. Those who do not will be at risk of becoming undocumented – leaving them unable to access state support and liable for deportation.
EU nationals who can prove they have been in the UK for a continuous five-year period are eligible for settled status, while those who have been in the UK for a shorter period of time are eligible for pre-settled status, for which they only need to prove that they were in the UK prior to 31 December 2020.
Sara’s father, Mark Bajraktari, told The Independent he was left “speechless” after discovering that his daughter had been refused, and expressed concern about his family’s future in the UK.
He and his wife, Leonora, moved to Britain in December – a move that had been postponed because of the pandemic. They both applied under the settlement scheme and were granted pre-settled status.
In order to meet the criterion for pre-settled status, the two children visited the UK for five days in December. They both applied under the scheme in March 2021.
However, while Erik has a bank card and was able to present a bank statement showing that he had bought items in Britain, Sara had only a flight boarding pass as evidence – which the Home Office did not accept as evidence that she was in the country.
“What you have provided is not sufficient because online boarding passes provide no evidence of residency […] Therefore, your application has been refused,” the refusal letter states.
Mr Bajraktari, 42, who decided to move to Britain to be closer to relatives who live in the country, said of the moment they received the letter: “My wife and I were speechless. Sara is a child and we all have pre-settled status.
“I was more worried for my wife and I because we didn’t have a long residency in the UK. I never thought our child would get refused. It’s been a real shock.
“Sara got really worried when she found out. She was worried she would be left in Italy without us.”
Christopher Desira, director of law firm Seraphus, is assisting the family and said the Home Office was informally reviewing the decision.
He said the case indicated “either poor decision-making or a poorly understood application”, adding: “The child should have been granted pre-settled status based on the evidence submitted (airline ticket) to demonstrate the child was resident in the UK before 31 December 2020.
“I suspect it will get overturned by the Home Office EU settlement team […] They tend to be pretty helpful when reviewing decisions which appear on the face of it to be wrong.
“But in the interim it’s very stressful for the family, and there will be others out there facing this problem who aren’t in touch with the organisations that can help them raise these issues with the Home Office.”
Cristina Tegolo, service coordinator at charity Settled, said the organisation was receiving many enquiries from “worried” parents whose children have been refused EU settlement or who were struggling to make an application for their child because of a lack of evidence.
“We hope that such cases can be resolved quickly and that families who call the UK home are not at risk of falling foul of this scheme,” she added.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are urgently looking into this case and are contacting the family to advise on next steps.
“We are determined to ensure all eligible children secure the status they deserve in UK law, and urge anyone who is eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme before the 30 June deadline. More than 5.4 million applications have already been received, with thousands of people being granted status every day.”
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