The Home Office is facing legal action over its treatment of tens of thousands of people in the UK who it is said are being denied employment rights and benefits.
A judicial review is being brought by charity Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex & London over the government’s alleged failure to provide the right documentation for foreign nationals who are living lawfully in the UK but who are encountering delays in their visa renewal process.
Tens of thousands of people in this situation are being wrongly suspended from work and being denied access to benefits each year, leading some into destitution, the charity Ramfel will argue. They will say that the Home Office is frustrating the purpose of the law by depriving people of the rights their status is meant to protect.
Foreign nationals who are legally in the UK but looking to extend or formalise their immigration status are put on “3C leave” while their application is being processed. This status protects their current rights to work and claim benefits, but leaves them without a physical document confirming their status – something many employers insist on seeing.
Some 372,000 people were in the same position during 2019, according to information shared by the Home Office in a freedom of information request. However the government has told MPs they do not hold any information for the number of people currently on 3C leave, or how long these people are waiting for an immigration decision.
Between January 2020 and May 2022, Ramfel helped 329 people make further leave-to-remain applications, and in at least 109 instances clients faced some kind of detriment while on 3C Leave.
Meanwhile, 21 people were either wrongly suspended from work or prevented from taking up employment. The charity estimates that nearly 41,000 people on 3C leave could be wrongly suspended from work or see their benefits wrongly cut off due to lack of documentation.
People have also faced other issues with continuing access to student finance and housing. Those on 3C leave often have problems satisfying landlords that they are entitled to rent a property. Young people also struggle to prove that they are eligible for student loans or prove that they should be treated as home students and not international students.
If the courts find that the Home Office is acting unlawfully, they could make direct recommendations – such as telling the government it should provide documentary evidence to people on 3C leave.
Many foreign nationals are often forced to wait for many months while on 3C leave; pushing them onto benefits when they want to work. The average waiting time for a further leave to remain decision is 11 months, according to the government, but some applicants have been forced to wait for over 30 months.
One former banker who speaks five languages, Salma, told The Independent how she had been unable to secure employment at eight different places despite the companies expressing interest in hiring her.
Referring to her 3C leave status, she said: “The government’s taken my basic right of being able to work and put me on the benefits system. I want to work and I take pride in that. I would rather work hard and make an honest living. I feel like they have tied my hands and legs. If they don’t want people to live off the system then why on earth are they doing this to people – taking away their basic rights to work.”
Salma came to the UK in 2019 to look after her British son. She was given leave to remain with permission to work and was able to find a job at a real estate firm. She has been waiting since July 2022 for her further leave to remain application to be determined and has been put on 3C leave throughout.
She moved to another company that closed down in 2022 and Salma has not been able to find new work because employers turned her away when they found out she was waiting on her visa renewal.
She said: “I have applied for countless jobs. I got shortlisted for a job at a council that required Arabic speaking, reading and writing. These employers, when they reach the part when they ask when I can start and I tell them my work permit is up for renewal, they pause. They tell me off record that when I get my work permit they might let me work.
“I was forwarded an application for an embassy job because of my language skills. However on the application it says I have to have a valid work permit.
“I’m finding it so difficult. Nowadays I find it hard to get out of bed and I have never had that before. I’m losing my strength and every day is becoming harder. I’m just asking them to either give me my work permit, or give me a document that would say that I still have my right to work.”
Nick Beales, from charity Ramfel, said: “There is no rational basis for the government to not implement modest changes to protect those on 3C leave, but they instead seem determined to waste public funds in protracted and expensive court proceedings.
“This demonstrates that despite their assurances in the wake of the Windrush scandal, the government has not learned anything and is committed as ever to maintaining its hostile environment despite knowing the harm it causes to families in the UK.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our guidance clearly stipulates that employers should provide individuals with every opportunity to demonstrate their right to work and must not discriminate against those with an outstanding application.
“We have set out a long-term vision to ultimately move away from providing physical documents that evidence immigration status and the move to digital means in future we can amend a person’s digital record in real time, helping to make it easier for people to accurately reflect their immigration status.”
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