When Jageer Ali visited Pakistan in November last year, he intended to stay for 10 days. He was visiting family and he had to return to the UK, his 12-year-old home, to resume his job as a store manager at Pret a Manger. But when he tried to catch his early morning flight to London, the 39-year-old was shocked to find he couldn’t get home.
The Pakistani national, who has settled status in the EU by virtue of his ex-wife, an EU national, was told by airline staff that he needed additional documents – a valid biometric residence card (BRC) – in order to re-enter the UK. Jageer had one but it was expired. He had been led to believe by a communication from the Home Office that he could travel with his digital-only status in the EU.
Six weeks later, the London resident is still stuck in Pakistan. He risks losing his job. He contacted the Home Office after he was refused entry on the flight and was told to apply for an immigration document called a BRP card – at a cost of £250. But this was rejected as the application must be made from the UK. It has not been reimbursed.
” I do not know what to do. I keep calling the Home Office and have to explain my situation again each time, and they always come up with something different. Sometimes they say they don’t know what to do. How can I find a solution? Jager said.
“My boss asks me what happens when I get back to work. I really do not know. It’s very stressful. I’m still paying the rent for my flat in London. I will have no income this month. I can’t find a way out of this situation. I just need to go home.
Jageer is one of many non-EU nationals who have traveled abroad believing their settlement status in the EU – a form of immigration status granted to EU citizens and their family members in the UK after Brexit – is sufficient to prove their immigration status, but have been prevented from returning to the country. Government guidelines on this are confusing and there has been a lack of clear information to deal with the situation they find themselves in.
To complicate matters further, a document that people receive when they obtain settlement status in the EU states that this means they can “travel in and out of the country without having to prove your status, as your information will be verified automatically”. An email sent by the Home Office to all EU Settlement Status holders last year stated: “You don’t need to do anything if you are traveling to or from the UK and that you have EUSS settlement or pre-settlement status”. Lawyers say this constitutes “misleading” information and have asked that those affected be compensated.
Italian national Cristina Feretti and her young children were unable to spend Christmas with her husband, Cameroonian national Christian Nkoyoh, after he was prevented from boarding a return flight from Italy.
Christian had been led to believe that he could travel without a valid BRP card. After being refused on the flight, he too was wrongly advised by the Home Office to apply for a BRP which was rejected because he was outside the UK, at a cost of several hundred books. He was then told he needed to apply for a travel document known as the EUSS Family Permit, which he did, but it took two months to arrive.
While Christian was away, Cristina was also diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. “I was alone the day I was told. It destroyed us,” she says. “Being alone here with my two children, especially during the Christmas holidays, was so difficult for me. I already had symptoms. I really struggled.
“We’re not the kind of people who do the wrong thing. We would never try to get in trouble. We just didn’t know that, because there’s nowhere that explains it properly.
In a third case, Russian national Victoria Krayushkina, 32, who has lived in Britain for nine years, was unable to return home for three months after being prevented from boarding a flight after visiting her family in Russia because she did not have a valid BRC card.
“I was told that I didn’t need another BRC and that I didn’t need to apply for a new one. My digital status says I can ‘travel inside and outside the UK without having to prove my status’. I have traveled abroad before since mine expired and had no trouble coming back,” she said.
The 32-year-old has been unable to do her job and has had to continue to pay rent for a flat in London that she currently cannot live in.
Ms Krayushkina said: “The situation has made financial planning really difficult, and it’s hard to get out of my routine. I didn’t take much. I had to ask friends to take my cat… The uncertainty is driving me crazy. I work full time, I pay all the taxes. I don’t see why I deserve separate treatment.
Luke Piper, Head of Policy and Advocacy at the3million, said: “People are in dire straits, unable to return home to the UK, due to inconsistent and misleading communications from the Home Office. This has significant emotional and financial consequences. Some of them will have spent thousands of euros to take refuge in countries where they do not live. They should be compensated.
Andrew Jordan, head of immigration advice at the charity Settled, said the issue demonstrated the Home Office’s ‘reluctance’ to issue a physical document to EU settlement holders was creating problems.
“It may work in theory, but not in practice. The Home Office has been warned of these issues many times, from the start, but they refuse to change course,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The letter that non-EEA people receive when they obtain status under the EUSS states that when they return to the UK after having traveled abroad, they must present their valid passport and biometric residence permit at the UK border.
“We are reviewing the guidelines for non-EEA people with EUSS status, to ensure they are clear on the steps they should take when traveling in and out of the EU. UK.”
They added that they do not routinely comment on individual cases and that each family permit application is reviewed as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but processing times may vary depending on the volume and complexity of applications. .