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Punishing and hostile route to settlement in Britain driving thousands into financial hardship, report finds

TENS of thousands of people trying to settle in Britain through a “hostile and extortionate” route that takes 10 years to complete are struggling to afford bills and food, new research suggests. 

Most migrants are able to settle permanently in the UK after five years, but for some this period is extended to 10. 

Those on the 10-year route are required to renew their visa every 30 months, forking out £2,600 each time and waiting an average of 10 months for the Home Office to process their applications. 

It’s estimated that around 170,000 migrants in Britain are waiting to complete this process, which campaigners warn is driving people into financial hardship, and causing crippling mental stress and anxiety. 

According to a survey of 314 people who are on or have recently completed the 10-year route, 62 per cent reported struggling to pay their utility bills. 

Some 57 per cent reported difficulties paying for food, while 80 per cent said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the policy. 

The survey is contained in a new report published today by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and migrant rights groups Praxis and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), which calls for the route to be capped to five years. 

The 10-year route policy applies to people who have strong ties to the UK, for example because they have a British child or spouse, but who do not meet the strict financial or other requirements for faster routes to settlement. 

People on this route can work, but the majority are not entitled to apply for benefits.

The report found that many struggle to find secure work and even lose jobs because of the uncertainty created by needing to submit repeat applications and processing delays. 

Mary Anne, who has lived in Britain for 15 years since arriving with her baby daughter from Nigeria in 2007, is one of the 170,000 people trying to obtain settlement through the 10-year route.

She was recently granted her second leave-to-remain application, and has spent over £10,000 so far on applications and legal fees to settle in Britain. 

Mary Anne, who did not want to give her surname, told the Morning Star the high visa fees, coupled with low pay and a lack of state support means she has fallen behind on her rent and bills to the tune of around £15,000. 

But she was unable to prove her right to work and lost her job at a school while waiting for the Home Office decision on her second application.

This left her without any income at all for four months, forcing her to rely on charity donations to survive. 

“Anything I put to the side I had already used for my visa renewal,” she said. “So going into the new year … I had nothing left.”

Since then she has found work as a community organiser, but says she still worries constantly about making ends meet. 

“I’m in a hamster wheel of constantly working and saving, constantly working and saving, trying to keep on top of my bills, trying to sort out debt and I do not earn that much,” she said. 

“I know in my head that in less than two years, I have to pay out about just under £3,000 just for myself, again. For my daughter as well.”

For many applicants the process can last even longer than 10 years.

A third of respondents said they had to start the process again because they couldn’t afford the fees to apply for another extension or their application was rejected because of a mistake. 

“Ten years is such a long time and it’s not even guaranteed that it’s going to be 10 years,” Jay*, 32, who is also on the route told the Star.

“I can be pushed out of status, and I’d have to start all over again. I have the anxiety that anything can happen.” 

Jay came to Britain legally from Gambia at the age of 14 with her mother, and now has a young daughter who is a British citizen. 

She described the process as hostile and dehumanising. “It makes people feel they’re not wanted or they’ll never be settled,” she said. 

“You’re not allowed to have dreams, you’re not allowed to live, you’re not allowed to be human. It’s designed for us to feel that way.”

The report calls for the visa fees to be reduced and urges the government to launch an independent review into the policy. 

IPPR senior research fellow Lucy Mort said: “It’s clear that this policy needs review and reform, not only to improve the lives of people on course to settle, but to reduce the workload of the Home Office.”

GMIAU policy officer Rivka Shaw said: “Far too many people embedded in our communities are forced into debt and insecurity through this punishing, exploitative policy, despite their best efforts to be resilient, work hard and provide for their families and children.  

“There is nothing inevitable about the 10-year route: it is a political choice that can and must be changed.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are proud to uphold the human rights settlement route for family members wishing to join their family in the UK.

“These rules are designed to ensure financial independence, encourage integration and tackle immigration abuse. Fee waivers are available for certain specified human rights applications, as well as for applications for children seeking to register as a British citizen.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are proud to uphold the human rights settlement route for family members wishing to join their family in the UK.
 
“These rules are designed to ensure financial independence, encourage integration and tackle immigration abuse. Fee waivers are available for certain specified human rights applications, as well as for applications for children seeking to register as a British citizen.”

*Name has been changed to protect Jay’s identity. 

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