A testimony from an EU PhD student rejected Permanent Residence
05 October 2018 11:59
There are many identities you can have in 2018 Britain. Depending on the context, you could call me a student, a work colleague, a commuter, an activist, a neighbour, or a friend. You could also consider me a migrant – an EU migrant, or a Romanian migrant, more specifically. The likelihood of you thinking of me as an ‘undesirable migrant’ is low – broadly speaking, PhD students fit within Theresa May’s ‘brightest and the best EU migrants’ group, whose contributions are ‘welcome’ even after Brexit.
I’m Alexandra, a Romanian PhD student at University College London, living in Cambridge with my British partner. I first arrived in the UK in 1997 and lived here for a few months while my father worked in the NHS on a short-term contract. I moved back here at 18 for university studies. I have only ever worked in the UK; I have not even visited my place of birth since 2013; and my Romanian passport states ‘Domicile: UK’, as I cannot prove any address in Romania.
Both my passport and I consider my home to be in the UK. There is no such thing as ‘going back home’ in my case, although comments that I should go ‘back’ are not uncommon in my life. My birthday present this year from the Home Office was a rejection email for my Permanent Residence application.
You may ask me how that could have happened. I cannot tell you why. The rejection email stated that the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance Evidence (CSI) I enclosed – something almost no one knew about before the referendum – was unsatisfactory. I do not know what exactly was wrong, because a decision letter was never sent to me. This means that, if I wanted to appeal the decision, I would have no information on how to appeal. If I wanted to re-apply, I would not know what exactly was wrong with my application.
What’s more, when they sent the 2.5 kilograms of my original documents back to me, the package included a contradictory information sheet stating, ‘You now have right of Permanent Residence’, asking me to refer to the non-existent ‘decision letter’. After enquiring about this, I’ve had no response from the Home Office for the past four months. The fact that applicants pay fees and do not even get basic customer is simply unacceptable.
Yes, I am likely to ‘be fine’ with settled status. Although I was refused Permanent Residence, for now, I can continue to work and study as normal, as the UK is still in the EU. If I am refused immigration status after Brexit, I will have to appeal the decision from outside the UK – as happens currently with non-EU migrants – even though every single one of the over 3 million EU citizens in the UK was promised we will ‘live our lives as before’.
I cannot help but notice the change in political language – we’re now told we’ll be able to live our lives ‘broadly as before’. Settled status is being presented by various Home Office representatives as nice and easy, but the devil is in the detail. Granted, if implemented, it will be easier than a permanent residence application, but it remains an application, not a registration system. Over 3 million people will need to apply and pay to stay in their own homes. For some, the UK is the only home they have known.
Apart from the difficulties of outreach, there is the issue of no deal. Out of all scenarios, no deal hits non-UK EU citizens and Brits in Europe hardest. Indeed, Theresa May promised unilateral guarantees for EU citizens in the event of no deal Brexit. But after living more than 800 days in limbo, I’m afraid my trust in what Theresa May says is very low.
Two of the main organisations campaigning for citizens’ rights, The3million and British in Europe, have been pushing to ring-fence the chapter on citizens’ rights from the draft of the Withdrawal Agreement, so that we do not rely on merely trust and hope in a no deal Brexit, but on clear legal documents and rights that have already been agreed with the EU. This could be a first step in restoring some trust in the system, which we all desperately need.
But all the guarantees in the world cannot erase the memory of my 24th birthday, when I found out the Home Office refused my Permanent Residence. That feeling of suddenly being unwelcome in the UK is shared by many fellow EU citizens. I chose to come to the UK not only because of the top universities, but also because of the British values of tolerance, respect and diversity. I hope these values are not lost in the Brexit process.
Alexandra Bulat is a PhD student researching migration at University College London, and a supporter of Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC), the largest group of young people under the People’s Vote campaign umbrella.