A Spanish woman who has lived in England for 44 years has been sacked from her job in a care home because she is unable to prove she has the right to work in the UK, in a case illustrating the difficulties experienced by EU nationals as employers grapple with post-Brexit right-to-work regulations.
The 45-year-old woman, who arrived in Britain as an 11-month-old baby and who has never left the country, said she has tried more than 100 times to get through to the Home Office-run helpline in the past three weeks, but has never been able to speak to an adviser.
She has applied for EU settled status, but her application is stuck somewhere in the backlog of over 500,000 cases the Home Office has yet to process.She is the main breadwinner, with two children to support, and said her dismissal has left her struggling to buy food.
Charities helping EU nationals say the case is not unique.“We’ve seen this time and again when people with pending EUSS applications were asked to take unpaid leave, or were turned down from employment,” Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the Work Rights Centre , said.
The care worker was called in for a formal meeting with her employers, a large residential care organisation, on 28 June, when managers discovered that she had no documentation proving her right to work in the UK.
“They asked me to prove that I came into the UK legally – it was like they were accusing me of coming here on the back of a lorry, but I came here as a baby.They asked me whether I could provide evidence that I had the right to work in the UK; I’ve been paying tax and national insurance here for almost 30 years.I was very upset – there were lots of tears on my side,” she said.
She asked for her name and the name of her employers not to be printed because she hopes to get her job back.
After the meeting, she applied for EU Settled Status on 30 June, just before the deadline for applications – but has never had a British or a Spanish passport.
As a result she was unable to fill in a digital application for EU settled status; instead she had to make a complicated paper-based application, and send in her birth certificate.She received a receipt of the application via email, but has not received the formal certificate that would allow her to continue working while waiting to be granted EU settled status.
On 2 July she was invited to a disciplinary meeting at work and fired after being told the organisation risked being fined if it continued to employ her.
She had been aware that she might need to apply for EU settled status, having seen government advertisements, but was unsure about how to apply because she had no passport; she has previously sought legal advice from immigration solicitors, but was Quote: d fees of £2,000 and could not afford it.
“I’ve been trying every day to get through to the Home Office resolution centre, between 10 and 20 times a day.All I get is a recorded message saying: ‘We’re too busy to take your call’,” she said.
“Because I’ve been in this country all my life, I didn’t think I would have any problems.
My husband and two children are British,” she said.She believes she is not eligible for unemployment benefits because she cannot prove she has the right to be in the UK.“My mother-in-law is helping with food.The bills aren’t being paid, I can’t drive because I only have half a tank of petrol left.
I’m already overdrawn by £235.”
She said she was missing the people she looked after at the care home.“It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with.All I want is to do my job and carry on with my life.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “There have already been more than 5.1m grants of status under the hugely successful EU settlement scheme.Anyone who applied to the scheme by the 30 June deadline, but has not had a decision, has their rights protected until their application is decided.
This is set out in law.”
But Vicol said the Work Rights Centre had tried to help resolve the situation without success.“Home Office staff recommended that we call again in two weeks’ time, but this still leaves her, and others like her, in a highly vulnerable situation,” she said.“Employers rarely take the time to read through to the Home Office supporting guidance, that specifies the process for outstanding applications – instead they run out of patience.The hostile environment has created a culture of fear, where risk-averse employers are overreacting in their right to work checks.”.