Voices: I had to launch a social media campaign to win the right to stay in the UK

·4-min read
My world crashed down around me when in March 2021, I was refused my settled status (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
My world crashed down around me when in March 2021, I was refused my settled status (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My immigration story is not complicated, but my fight with the Home Office nearly broke me. My family moved to London from the Netherlands when I was 10 years old – and 17 years later, my immigration nightmare began.

I was first refused my EU settled status (EUSS) in March 2021 after applying in 2019. The Home Office scheme grants immigration status to EU citizens living and working in the UK post-Brexit. If you are refused settled status then you do not have the right to work; you cannot access public services like the NHS, and you are at risk of deportation.

I’ve been writing and campaigning about the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit since before the 2019 general election. At first, my concerns centred around my mother. I worried that she, a former refugee who sought asylum in the Netherlands, may have trouble attaining her settled status, despite being eligible.

In fact, I was so worried about her application that I completed hers first. I was more relaxed about my own status – after all, I grew up in the UK. I went to school here, went on to university here and now work as an award-winning journalist in London. I am also Dutch by birth. Put simply, you can’t be more eligible for EUSS.

In December 2019, I sent off my application without a second thought, but my world crashed around me when in March 2021, I was refused my settled status.

According to the Home Office, there were “gaps” in my residence, one of which was when I was studying at the University of Cambridge. After a media storm, the Home Office got in touch with me and told me to reapply and to let them know when I did so they could expedite my case. I reapplied and heard nothing.

In April 2022, I was refused again on the grounds that they had found other gaps. So I submitted a third application and just as I sought legal advice, I started an exciting gig in London and my employers requested my right to work.

But my right to work was called into question and it resulted in not being able to work or earn an income during a cost of living crisis. After a few viral tweets, the Home Office got in touch with me again and told me there is only one “gap” in my residence now, in 2020.

In 2020? On Twitter, I joked that I should have requested CCTV footage of my “couch to 5k runs” and submitted that as evidence. It was the year of several lockdowns during a pandemic. Where would I have gone?

I submitted my extra evidence within a day and experienced perhaps the darkest weekend of my life. But five days later, with the help of lawyers, campaigners, my MP and my fellow journalists, I was granted my indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

I am overjoyed, but also feel broken by the process; this is not something that I will recover from quickly. During the ordeal, everything I had, everything that I worked so hard towards, hung in the balance because of one Home Office decision.

It felt like we were arguing about whether or not the sky is blue. I have the right to remain and work in the UK, so why was I having to go through this rigamarole?

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I didn’t choose to come to the UK when I was a child – but I did choose to stay and build a life and career here. It felt like I was being tortured for that decision.

Even worse is that I not alone in my experiences – I’m just one of the lucky ones. Some people spend years living in limbo, unable to continue with their lives because of this.

At the moment, there are around 280,000 EU citizens waiting for a decision on their EUSS application and that doesn’t include those who are vulnerable and yet to apply. In my work raising awareness about the scheme, I never thought I would have to advocate for myself. But I recognise that I am very fortunate. My thoughts are with those who don’t even know their rights and are not able to advocate for themselves like me.

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