As British Prime Minister Theresa May announces March 29 as the day she will trigger Article 50, officially kick-starting the process for the UK to leave the European Union, EU nationals living in Britain are seriously worried about their future status as they grapple with complex British residency rules – which often results in rejection.
LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (FILE – JUNE 24, 2017) (REUTERS – Ever since last year’s vote for Brexit, the question of what will happen to the roughly three million EU nationals living in Britain has become a highly contentious and emotional issue.
Having lived, worked and educated his children in Britain over the last 28 years, German professor Dieter Wolke thought remaining in his adopted homeland in the wake of last year’s vote to leave the European Union would be straightforward.
But like tens of thousands of EU nationals living in Britain, he has found obtaining permanent residency to be a laborious, expensive, and complicated process, which has culminated in his application so far being rejected.
Wolke was shocked that after so many decades in the UK, he could be forced to leave.
“Before Brexit I just felt like anyone else, I think my English is good, I can communicate with people. I do my work, I am appreciated at work and suddenly I felt like I am treated like someone who is unwanted,” he said.
He is now considering moving back to Germany rather than continue to do battle with the Home Office (interior ministry) over his residency application.
“Suddenly you are being told ‘Well, actually you are now a second class citizen, you are not the same status as us’,” he added.
The government has repeatedly ruled out guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals, arguing similar guarantees are needed for Britons living in the EU.
The lack of political clarity has sparked a surge of applications for permanent residency – an 85-page form requiring a mass of supporting documents.
“The form is a complete nightmare, it was very complicated,” said Monica Obiols from Spain who has lived in the UK since 1989 with her Danish partner Jan-Dinant Schreuder. The couple have teenage children who were born in the UK but have Spanish passports.
While the parents were granted indefinite leave to remain, the children’s application was rejected on the grounds of insufficient information provided. They will have to go through the process again.
“I didn’t feel that I didn’t belong before, I really felt this is where I live, this is home. And now I am being made to feel like an outsider so it has completely changed my perception of this country,” said Obiols.
People are asked for an endless number of documents spanning back sometimes many years to the Home Office to prove they had been living and working in Britain lawfully, an impossible task for many, said Barbara Drozdowicz, chief executive of the East European Resource Centre in London.
“How on earth can you possibly expect yourself to have mobile bills from ten years ago. I mean who would have thought that you would ever need these documents,” she said.
Applications for permanent residency have soared six times higher since the referendum. More than 28 percent of those submitted in the last three months of 2016 were rejected or declared invalid.
Twenty two-year-old Stella Tsantekidou (pron: San-Tay-Key-Do) has been studying and working in the UK for five years and doesn’t know whether she will able to carry on working in Britain after Brexit.
She is upset that the government’s position is akin to treating people as bargaining chips – putting millions of lives in limbo.
“So why not go ahead give us peace of mind and say that you are not going to be deported. We value you, we appreciate what you are adding to British society. We want you with us, you are safe,” she said.