Saturday, 1 July 2017

Once Upon a Nightmare


This is the story of Anna and Stefan. These are not their real names, but they are real people, and their story is all too real. Anna and Stefan come from Hungary and live in the next town to me. Anna works in the local library, which is how I met her, leading 'Baby Rhyme Time' when Little G and I used to rock up every Thursday to sing along.

Anna and Stefan arrived here twelve years ago, moved into a flat and found jobs. Stefan works for an agency in the social care industry, on low wages, visiting elderly people in their homes to help them live an independent life. Anna had a variety of jobs, but the arrival of their 2 lovely children meant that she was not in continuous work, as she took time off to care for her babies.

Neither of them ever thought about returning home outwith family visits. As Anna told me: 'Hungary has an awful despot as a prime minister.' And so their lives pottered on, the kids grew, started school, and Anna gave birth to their third child.

Then Brexit happened and their lives suddenly turned from OK to nightmare. It started with the abuse. Comments and looks if they spoke their mother tongue in the street. Stefan came home to find a group of local men waiting for him. He was threatened, called names and told to 'go back where he came from'. The abuse went on. The family went to the police. The harassment ceased. Then their very  loved cat was poisoned. The family stopped feeling safe, and started to look around for new accommodation.

Eventually, the council found them a small derelict house that had been used by druggies as a base. It was filthy, needles everywhere and nothing 'worked'. Luckily, Stefan is a practical man, and their friends all piled in to make the house habitable again. Once they were settled, they decided to apply for permanent residence. And the nightmare began all over again.

To complete the 86 page documents, Stefan needed 5 years of payslips, bank statements etc. 3 kilograms of documents. They managed to get this together, sent it off, and the Home Office promptly 'lost' some of the documents. Three months later, they were requested to resubmit everything. (This is only the first stage ~ it gets them a permanent residence card, which is compulsory for a nationality application.)

And it isn't free. It will cost Anna and Stefan £1,500 each, plus £1,000 for each child. Did I say that they both work in low-waged jobs? But even if they get the money together, that may well not be the end of their problem. There is worse. Much worse. Because Anna doesn't have 5 years continuous employment, having taken time out to be a stay at home mum, she cannot apply now with Stefan but must wait until next May.

And there is more: Stefan and Anna are not married, so Anna, in the eyes of the government, has to prove she is a family member. She may have no right to remain here. Mistakes and missteps dog the application process. As she says: 'Twelve years, & 3 children doesn't count.'  Once Stefan's application, and that of the children goes through, she could be told to leave. Who knows?

So while our MPs posture and bluff and accuse the EU (from whom WE chose to detach ourselves) of 'bullying' and 'intimidating' the UK, I offer this little (true) story to help get a sense of perspective. Anna and Stefan are just ordinary hard-working, tax-paying people. Like you. Stefan looks after elderly frail people, maybe like someone in your family. Two of their children go to a local school, like yours do. They have made their life here. And this life is being stress-tested and torn apart. Needlessly.

STOP PRESS: On their recent visit to Hungary to see family, Anna and Stefan took the decision to get married. They didn't want to, but they decided it was better for their application that they did, lest Anna's sporadic work record meant possible deportation back to Hungary and away from their three children, the youngest of whom is 18 months.




19 comments:

  1. I know it's no consolation, but they are not alone. My lovely neighbour is Swedish - she married an Englishman, and he died some years ago. She's lived here for over 40 years. She's now in her 70s - and is frightened. She's been verbally abused in town, just for her accent. The form has defeated her. She has no children - her only family is a niece in America and nephew wandering the world. She feels she has no choice but to go back to Sweden. This is just so wrong.

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    1. Utterly appalling¬! You know my family background, Jo..I am beginning to think we are walking backwards..only this time it's EU citizens, not Jews!

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  2. How will we manage without these hard-working and undemanding young people? If we send them away who will do the low-wage jobs they are happy enough to fill? If this forces wages up (and caring SHOULD be better paid, like a million pounds a year plus bonuses!) then costs go up for the rest of us - fair but hard to manage. And, these young immmigrants who are "overloading our NHS" and "clogging up our schools" (naughty people!) are actually the ones who are having families and providing the next generation of workers to sustain our economy. Look forward to a future with many more elderly (now they really do cost money in the NHS!) no carers and an economy short of workers to pay for it all. Doesn't sound like Utopia to me! Good luck Anna, Stefan and your babies. Thank you for being here, we need you.

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    1. Sweetie, what a lovely comment. I am going to get Anna to read the comments in a couple of days.

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  3. I already knew about the bureaucracy and cost of applying for citizenship from a Brazilian friend who is married to an Englishman and she was told that some of her documents were out of date by the time they got round to looking at them so she had to send replacements within 2 days by registered post. After 6 years in England she is so disillusioned, especially since Brexit when she started to experience abuse, that she is divorcing her husband and moving back to Brazil.

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  4. Sorry, from my own research as an EU citizen (like Anna an unmarried, non-working family member of a working EU citizen) into PR I think something got mixed up here. The PR application is only £65 for EU citizens but to then apply for citizenship will get you to the number you quote and most likely even more, paying for postage, language test, life in the UK test and more. For non-EU citizens the cost is different and much higher. Also marriage has nothing to do with being counted as a family member or not - but of course I will have to prove that I was living with my then partner (now husband). There is a special Facebook group that Anna and Stefan should join (UKCEN), there are lawyers who can advise them properly.

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    1. Thanks for this..yes I have conflated the overall costs ...I think people believe citizenship applications are free. And the legal ref is known to them ..thanks again

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    2. Anna replies to your comment: Saw the comments on your blog! The comment regarding being family members or not. By a lawyer on UKCEN (the Facebook page she recommended) it was confirmed that you would have had to be married for 5 years before your qualifying period. If not married then a certificate of sorts-can't remember exactly, like a civil partnership declaration 5 years before your qualifying period . Bills and joint accounts are Not enough.

      Found it :
      you need an EEA Registration Certificate for 5 years as an unmarried partner

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    3. Yes, there was bound to be another 'nice' and 'short' form. Thank you! I'll start looking into this for us properly after the summer. I also have an 11 year old son who was born here and who will also have to apply for citizenship - but because he was born here it works differently and we will 'only' pay (like your friends) about £1000 for this privilege that wasn't necessary at all until now. His citizenship is much more important to me than my own, after all he has lived all his life here and should be able to have all options open to him!
      Have you seen Monday's edition of Dispatches on C4, things were quite well explained there. Best of luck to your friends and thank you for giving all of this more exposure!

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  5. What a messy, complicated life Mrs.May is involved in! Nothing, of course, compared to the plight of so many people caught up in the dreadful web. People who treat 'foreigners' as they do should be ashamed. Next time they need a hospital or some service, just think about the person providing that service. Where they come from/the colour of their skin, is irrelevant.Hang your head in shame. Just what is happening to so-called 'society' in the UK?

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  6. Dreadful way to treat hard working people.

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  7. COMMENT from a Facebook group: Comment on Forum for EU citizens Facebook group :
    "I don't like to rant but now I really have to! I wanted to fill in the citizenship application-got the permanent residency status in Jan-and found out that after teaching 10years here and passing 3 Cambridge certificates including the proficiency one , I still have to pass the new life skills test because the others are not valid! I wonder how I survived here employed without that test! Honestly who made these applications haven't met real people! Rant over!"

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  8. I have just returned to the UK from France where my husband and I have lived for the past 6 years. We had several reasons for returning and Brexit was one of them. Our friends and neighbours were very supportive but people who didn't know us were not. They made it quite clear to us that they will be glad to see the UK leave because, in their opinion, we have become (or perhaps always were) a nation of small-minded selfish people with "little islander" mentality. At the time, we felt hurt by that but, having read your story and others like it, I am beginning to think there is some truth in their view. I never thought I would feel ashamed of my country. But I do now.

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    1. Believe me, so do I. I have applied for restored German citizenship, as my Jewish grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz. The thoughgt that my grandchildren may not be 'allowed' to live/study/work abroad horrifies me. Also, Brexit means the SECOND time my family has been deprived of its citizenship...both by rightwing xenophobic governments! Thanks for your comments. Tragic that you have had to make them!

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  9. Just terrible, I'm so horrified, and sorry for the people involved. Appalled at the xenophobia that Brexit seemed to legitimise.

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    1. and that the current government does not call out strongly enough..mainly because, like Hitler's Government, it suits their purpose to have a scapegoat.

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  10. The problem over children born in this country is complex: EXTREMELY IMPORTANT

    From one of our Lawyers (UKCEN https://www.facebook.com/groups/132887737155325/)

    One important point relating to the current system of EEA Permanent Residence and the government’s proposed “Settled Status” is in relation to children born in the UK to an EU citizen parent.

    At the moment, the current system of EEA Permanent Residence allows an applicant to be issued a Permanent Residence “acquired date”, back as far as 30 April 2006.
    This then means that any child born in the UK to the EU citizen could automatically apply for a British passport – if born AFTER the “acquired date”.

    We do not know if the new Settled Status will allow applicants to have an earlier acquired date but as this is only to become effective in 2018 or 2019 it seems unlikely that you could have an earlier acquired date for a status that didn’t previously exist.

    As an example – Tom is born in the UK on 1 July 2008 to French citizen parents. Tom’s mother, Louise, has worked in the UK from 2000 to 2008 and applies successfully for Permanent Residence in 2017. She is issued Permanent Residence with an acquired date of 30 April 2006. Tom is now deemed to be a British citizen from birth and easily applies for a UK passport.

    However, the situation is potentially very different if Louise declines to apply for Permanent Residence and instead waits until 2019 to apply for Settled Status. She is granted Settled Status on 1 May 2019 and there is no prior “acquired date”. Tom now has to apply for registration as a British citizen before he can apply for a passport. The registration fee (in 2017) is currently £973.

    Louise is now very upset that she didn’t apply for Permanent Residence in 2017 as advised by UKCEN and now she has to pay a lot more money.

    If one of the parents is British then the above doesn't apply. It then depends on who is British (mother or father), whether they were married at the time of child's birth or subsequently.

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    1. Anna's oldest was born only 2 years after she moved here so she is not eligible either. You need to live here for 5 years before your baby's birth to get British nationality (but you need to prove that you were working.

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