Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Woman ‘dehumanised’ by process to stay in Britain

Woman ‘dehumanised’ by process to stay in Britain

A COUNCILLOR who moved from Bulgaria to Britain almost two decades ago says the process of seeking permission to remain after Brexit is “dehumanising”.

Maggie Filipova-Rivers, an economist and mother-of-two who represents Goring on South Oxfordshire District Council, applied to the Home Office for “settled” status last week but was told she didn’t qualify.

The department said she might still be able to stay but must first provide evidence that she had been living in the country, which is set to leave the European Union on October 31, for at least five consecutive years.

She says she can obtain this but the Home Office should already have access to her tax and maternity allowance records and it is stressful to have to prove her right to live here after starting a family.

Councillor Filipova-Rivers, who lives in Mapledurham with her British husband Mathew and their children Noah, seven, and Indigo, 17 months, will consult a lawyer as she says other EU nationals have been rejected after giving more information.

In such cases, they were only deemed “pre-settled” so may be deported unless they can provide further evidence by June 30, 2021.

Cllr Filipova-Rivers, a Liberal Democrat who was elected in May, said: “There should be an automatic presumption of being settled unless proven otherwise, rather than placing the burden of proof on individuals.

“I’ve had a long residence here but they’ve decided I’m not eligible even though my benefits should be on their records.

“I’m taking advice because if they can’t find that for themselves, what are the chances that my own proof will be accepted?

“From what I’ve heard, the system is far from perfect. People sometimes have to prove additional years of residence or are simply rejected so it’s complex and very distressing.

“It’s likely that I will be okay but it’s dehumanising to be put on the spot and told to justify your existence. It feels like an attack, as though you’re a second-class citizen no matter how much you have contributed.”

Cllr Filipova-Rivers, who is also cabinet member for community services, moved to the UK in 2000 and first studied at Bradfield College before sitting a business, finance and economics degree at Newcastle University between 2003 and 2006.

She later sat a postgraduate degree in a similar discipline at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is now undertaking a PhD at the University of Reading. She and her husband, who runs a game shooting business on the Mapledurham estate, were married eight years ago.

Cllr Filipova-Rivers applied to settle through the Home Office website, which said it had proof of residence for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017, when she had a full-time job, but not for dates outside that when she was self-employed or receiving maternity allowance.

It gave her the choice of becoming “pre-settled” or submitting more evidence.

She said: “This is a period of enormous anxiety for anyone in my position because of the uncertainty. It seems crazy that you have to get HMRC to print your tax records — why doesn’t the Home Office have all of that?

“I know I’m not alone as a resident of my ward has been here 14 years and they won’t recognise her maternity years or a period of self-employment either.

“I’m well-placed to navigate the system but others may struggle. I’ve spoken to my banks and ordered paperwork but that takes time and I’m not entirely trusting that the system will recognise it.

“It feels like it’s skewed against you and isn’t easy to use — you have to validate your documents using an app that only works on Android smartphones.

“European nationals shouldn’t be forced to do this just because the situation changed through no fault of our own. We were promised automatic settled status around the time of the referendum in 2016, as it should be, but that isn’t happening.

“My eldest child knows something’s going on but we’re trying not to worry him as we don’t want him to think I will suddenly be in a difficult position.”

The Home Office says its application process is “quick and easy” and no applicants have been deemed pre-settled without first having a chance to prove they qualify for settled status.

It offers a “resolution centre” for anyone struggling with the process.

A spokesman said: “The scheme has been deliberately designed to be as accepting as possible and our caseworkers are looking for reasons to accept. Applicants do not need to have been in work or paying tax and only need to demonstrate that they have been resident in the country before October 31 this year.”

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