“Please can you call me, my work have stopped me from working” – words of panic received in a text from my client. He had been suspended form work without pay, on the premise that his right to work in the UK had expired. He was told that if he could not provide a physical document showing that his leave to remain in the UK had been renewed by a certain date, his employment with the company would be terminated.
What his company failed to realise, was that my client’s right to work had been automatically extended under Section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 because prior to the expiry of his visa I had assisted him with submitting a valid application to renew his leave to remain.
Section 3C states that if a person with leave to remain applies to renew their leave before it expires, and their leave expires without their application having been decided, it will be extended until the Home Office makes a decision. This means that their right to live, work, study, and access benefits in the UK will subsist until a decision is made on their application. This is referred to as “3C leave”.
Many companies are unaware of the existence of 3C leave because the government fails to provide documentation that people can present as proof of their immigration status whilst they await a decision on their further leave to remain application. This has potentially cost tens of thousands of people like my client their jobs, homes, mental health, benefits and more. They are left to bear the brunt of the incompetence and negligence of a racist and anti-immigration government, whose policies exclude them under the guise that it is ‘the will of the people’. This is despite the fact that many of them are the parents of British or settled children, or partners of the same.
I wrote to my client’s company explaining that he had 3C leave and attaching proof of his valid visa renewal application to the Home Office. He was reinstated, but the impact of the incident remained with him. During his suspension word had erroneously spread to other employees within the company that he was in the UK ‘illegally’ and would no longer be working with them. This caused him distress and debilitating depression and he stopped eating as a result. He could not return to work and had to obtain a sick note from his GP to take time off to recover.
Other clients of mine have experienced similar things. One works for a well-known government agency which informed her that her right to work had expired and blocked her ability to book shifts for almost 2 weeks until she brought the situation to my attention. The fact that government agencies are unaware of 3C leave is astounding. Another client was stopped from working a day before her leave expired. Some clients are frantic weeks before their leave is due to expire because they are terrified of losing their jobs.
The hostile environment traps those who are here with visas on the “ten-year route to settlement”. They are being forced to live in fear.
On 17 July 2023, the Home Office announced that effective September 2023 people with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme would automatically have their status extended by 2 years before it expires should they not yet have obtained Settled Status. The rationale was said to be so they can continue to contribute to British society without fear of losing their immigration status. Sadly, the parents and partners of British or settled people on the 10-year route have not been afforded the same courtesy.
Every 2 and a half years, they must apply to renew their right to be in the UK before their visas expire or risk falling out of status. They must choose between paying inordinate and ever rising application and Immigration Health Surcharge fees or having every inch of their finances inspected by the Home Office in fee waiver applications if they cannot afford the fees. Once their applications for further leave to remain are submitted, they must wait; sometimes up to a year-long period on 3C leave, without any document to prove their status. The devastating impact of this has been brought to the government’s attention times without number, including in a report published by RAMFEL in 2022 with 4 recommendations for change. Yet, these calls to action have fallen on deaf ears.
One of my clients described the 10-year route as a battle to which she has lost lots of friends – some due to depression, others because they died. The cost of an exclusionary immigration system is lives. And reflecting on the events of the Windrush Scandal it is clear that history will repeat itself if swift action isn’t taken. This is why RAMFEL is taking the government to court. On 19 and 20 March 2024, the High Court will decide on the lawfulness of the government’s failure to protect those on 3C leave.
One can only hope for a favourable ruling that will change the lives of thousands of people like my clients, by ensuring that their rights are protected on 3C leave so they can live in freedom, not fear.
AUTHOR: Joyinola Layonu, Immigration Advisor at RAMFEL