Thousands of people living legally in the UK are facing delays in the visa renewal process, causing them problems with hostile environmental policies, according to research published this week by an immigrant rights charity.
People seeking to extend or formalize their immigration status are granted the little-understood status of “3C license” while they await the Home Office to process your request. During this period, their right to work, rent property, and access health care is in theory protected, but because they have no documentary evidence to prove their status, many face difficulties with landlords and employers.
Research by the London and Essex Refugee and Migrant Forum (Ramfel), which offers support with immigration case work, said more than 30% of its clients had experienced difficulties while on 3C leave. Employers and landlords are often unfamiliar with the concept, and because they are keen to avoid being fined for employing or hiring an illegal immigrant, they often see a lack of documentation as synonymous with illegal status, the charity says.
Many placed on the 3C license are in the process of trying to naturalize as British, under the 10-year route, which requires applicants to make four additional 30-month applications to stay in the UK during the qualifying period at a cost of around £2,600 each time. Backlogs in Home Office processing mean many find themselves in immigration limbo for extended periods.
A package of hostile environmental policies introduced beginning in 2012 increased the penalties faced by employers and landlords who fail to conduct immigration status checks, and made it more difficult for anyone without documentary proof of valid immigration status to access health care, benefits, driver’s licenses, driving, bank accounts. or mobile phone contracts. This caused problems for people from the Windrush generation, who were unable to prove they were in the UK legally, but a new group of people are now facing similar difficulties due to a lack of understanding of 3C status.
Shantel Williams, 29, who has lived in the UK since arriving here legally from Jamaica when she was nine with her mother, is trying to get British citizenship through the 10-year route. She applied for work at a bookmaker earlier this summer, while on 3C leave while awaiting a decision from the Home Office on her latest application for permission to stay, but was unable to persuade prospective employers that she was here legally. . When she explained that they could go online to do employee verification on the government website, they were unfamiliar with the system and refused to do so.
“The system feels very harsh and brutal. The slow decision-making process of the Ministry of the Interior makes things very difficult. It has had a huge impact on my life, in terms of being stable and feeling like I belong here,” he said.
“The average waiting time for a decision is currently 11 months, which means that applicants spend almost a year on a 3C license without a physical visa document. This has been further exacerbated by government delays in processing employment verification checks, which are intended to act as a safeguard for those with 3C licenses,” the Ramfel report states.
Between January 2020 and May 2022, Ramfel helped 329 people make further requests for leave to stay, and in at least 109 cases (31%) the clients suffered some kind of harm during the 3C leave; 21 people were wrongfully suspended from work or prevented from accepting employment.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our guidance clearly stipulates that employers must give people every opportunity to prove their right to work and must not discriminate against those with a pending application. We are clear that those who discriminate are breaking the law. We have set out a long-term vision to ultimately move away from providing physical documents that prove immigration status to help make it easier for people to accurately reflect their immigration status.”
Ramfel’s Nick Beales said: “The Windrush scandal showed that the government’s hostile environment traps and victimizes British citizens simply because they do not have physical visa documents. For those on the 10-year path to settling down, who reside legally in the UK but spend significant periods on 3C leave without physical proof of their immigration status, it should come as no surprise that they frequently face discrimination in employment and when seeking access. including basic services.”
Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer, said that the lack of documentation was causing problems: “If you have submitted a valid application, the law extends it invisibly, but no employer, landlord, university or hospital will be able to see that in the passport. and the fines they will face will make them reluctant to trust you.”