'I feel illegal in this country': Thousands of parents of British children wait 12 months for visas

Praxis policy and public affairs manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz (Praxis)
Praxis policy and public affairs manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz (Praxis)

An Essex mother of two, who has lived in the UK for 16 years, says she cannot switch jobs and her daughter cannot begin pharmaceutical studies while they wait up to 12 months for the Home Office to process their visa applications.

The supermarket worker, who only wanted to be identified as Ajibola, said her eldest daughter was offered a place at university but cannot access student finance, and has been repeatedly turned down by employers, while she waits for her next visa to continue living in the UK.

Ajibola is one of roughly 170,000 people - including many single mothers working part-time while raising their British children - on a 10-year route to settlement whose visa applications have a "ridiculous" processing time of 12 months, migrant advocates said.

In comparison, most other visa decisions within the UK take the Home Office just eight weeks to process.

"It's giving me a headache every time I think about it,” Ajibola told the Standard.

"I'm just frustrated about the whole thing. My daughter was very ambitious. She was really looking towards starting at university this September, but unfortunately she can't.

"There was another job offer that would be a good one for my family, but because I haven't got [proof of my right to work] I couldn't change jobs."

Ajibola said her last visa only took around six months to process.

Migrant advocates told the Standard that Home Office processing times for people on the 10-year route to settlement increased to 12 months this summer, up from eight months in April.

Families are forced to renew visas every 30 months for almost £3,000 per visa on the 10-year route.

Those waiting up to a year on their visa application are either the parent of a British child, or the partner or spouse of a British citizen applying on the basis of their private life.

Adults are eligible to apply for a visa on the basis of their private life if they have lived in the UK for 20 years already or they would face "very significant problems" leaving the country.

They are not eligible, or do not not meet the financial threshold, for the five-year route to settlement.

A study by refugee and migrant charity Praxis showed the main nationalities of applicants are Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamacian and Pakistani, with 40 per cent working in health or social care or short-term contracts.

Refugee & Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL) spokesperson Nick Beale said: "The Government now takes a whole year to process [these] visa applications.

"Throughout this period, people lack any proof of their status and ongoing rights and are at the mercy of the Government’s hostile environment, as employers, universities and the DWP are terrified of engaging with those who cannot evidence their immigration status.

"People face arbitrary and wrongful suspension from work, with the loss of income at this time more critical than ever for families struggling to make ends meet."

Nick Beales from RAMFEL (RAMFEL)
Nick Beales from RAMFEL (RAMFEL)

An east London mother, who only wanted to be identified as Ms Roberts, is a part-time teaching assistant while she raises two children.

The 36-year-old has been waiting since March for a decision on her next visa, and told the Standard that the Home Office has been "robbing us of our time".

"If I go somewhere, I don't have ID to show. I feel illegal in this country. I have nothing to prove [my right to be here].

"[It’s] playing with my mental health because basically they do not want us in this country.

"I think this country can do a lot better for us."

Spokesperson at Praxis, Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, said the extortionate wait time is a "punitive measure" used by the Home Office against lower-income earners and a "significant proportion" of single mothers who are not eligible for the five-year route to settlement.

While there are ways for officials to check families’ right to live, work and study in the UK while they wait for their next visa, in reality this does not happen, she told the Standard.

Ms Whitaker-Yilmaz said landlords and employers are often spooked by anti-migrant rhetoric used by the Home Office.

"The hostile environment essentially relies on people being so worried about being fined that they say no, no, no, no before checking all of the details because they don't want to take the risk,” she said.

"[Landlords] don't understand the rules and what that means is, in practice, people find themselves unable to rent on the open market and they then either take up accommodation in informal arrangements, maybe surfing sofas or …they end up renting from slum landlords unofficially where they have zero rights and live in frankly dangerous accommodation.

"It's forcing them into very difficult situations over an incredibly long period of time and very high risk of poverty and destitution and homelessness."

She said as a solution families could be given a certificate which proves they have made a visa application, and states their right to work and access public funds.

Mr Beale said the Government could cap settlement routes at five years, reducing the number of repeat applications and the strain faced by Home Office decision-makers.

"They have shown no interest in addressing the problems with the 10-year route, demonstrating their disdain both for foreign nationals and those doing jobs, such as care work, that they consider expendable," he said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Applicants who have applied for the 10 year Partner, Parent and Private life visa prior to their current visa expiring are able to continue to work and study in the UK until their visa has been granted, as long as they have the permitted permissions to do so."

It comes a month after the Home Office began charging between 15 and 35 per cent more for visas to visit, live, study and work in the UK.