An Italian green technology investor who has lived in the UK for 14 years has discovered he could be deported after Brexit despite having a ‘permanent residence’ card.
She is one of potentially tens of thousands of EU nationals who were unaware that in 2019 the Home Office changed rules requiring them to apply for a separate scheme called EU Settlement.
Silvana, whose name has been changed, only discovered her permanent residence card was invalid when her daughter’s application to renew her European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) was rejected before her holidays this summer.
She said she was then incorrectly told by authorities to apply for a replacement biometric residence certificate and paid £200 for an emergency booking as her family was about to travel. That too was refused and she was finally given the correct instructions. It was to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, which officially ended in June 2021 but late applications based on “reasonable grounds” were still being accepted.
On 9 August, the government changed the definition of ‘reasonable grounds’, removing ‘lack of awareness’ of the EU’s settlement scheme as an acceptable reason to justify delaying an application.
Silvana holds a degree in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London and is completing her PhD at University College London. She is also an investor in environmental start-ups, contributing to the UK’s core mission of making technology cleaner.
The mother of a British husband and dual nationality daughter applied for permanent residence in 2016, primarily as a step towards applying for British citizenship, but later abandoned the idea due to cost.
“Permanent residence cards have no expiry date. I know what’s going on in the world, I’m not stupid. I read the guidelines at the time. Suggesting that my card is invalid. There was nothing,” she said.
Campaigners have repeatedly warned that given the number of people who lived in the UK before Brexit, thousands of EU nationals could fall, some with their children and grandchildren. Some have lived there for decades.
Even after her Ehic application was rejected, Silvana thought she was safe because she had evidence from the Home Office that she had been in the country before Brexit. “Honestly, I didn’t understand the gravity of my situation for a whole month,” she said.
She blames her situation on the government, which allegedly allowed Home Office officials to repeatedly provide false and inaccurate information.
She said the problem was further complicated by the fact that many lawyers who were unaware of the facts were taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of EU nationals. Nor does the Home Office refer people like her to charities or advice centers like Inca for Italians in the UK. Inca receives funding from the Italian government to support British nationals.
“For a month I sought legal advice. Applications were being quoted from £500 to £12,000. They all told me completely different things,” Silvana says. said. “At my initial consultation, I was told that I was a ‘hopeless case’ and that I would never win, even if the British visa officer gave me the wrong advice.”
“I have been treated like a criminal,” she rages, adding that several times in the past year Home Office officials have not only found their permanent residence not valid but have also been replaced by the EU settlement scheme. I was furious that he didn’t tell her.
“It would have been very easy for them to say, ‘You have to apply for settled status.’ In my opinion, their attitude around the Withdrawal Agreement is unlawful.”
Andrea Dumitrache, acting director of the3million campaign group, said the Home Office’s new guidelines on reasonable excuses for late applications meant that “the safeguards that were in place for EU nationals to access their rights” said it was deleted.
He said this was “an example of an authoritarian policy that punishes and unfairly deprives people of their rights through an obsession with a relatively small number of ‘speculative’ applications that the Home Office can control.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it had been “clear for a long time” that permanent residence documents would become invalid at the end of the grace period on June 30, 2021.
“More than two years have passed since the widely publicized deadline for applications to the scheme. In line with our commitments in the Civil Rights Agreement, we will continue to accept and consider late applications from people who have reasonable excuses for their late application. “The spokesperson said.