By the time my family received our leave to remain in the UK, we were hanging on by our finger nails. We were granted it only after years of my mum being unable to work to support us, being unable to claim any state support, and having to live by the grace of others.
After years of waiting and praying, and living in the shadows, being granted what’s called ‘limited leave to remain’ meant I was finally free to work, to make the most of opportunities. I could feel secure, without the fear that the person knocking on our door was here to remove me from the only place I have ever known as home.
At last, we could start the hard work of getting back on our feet. Or so I thought.
In all the relief I felt, it took a while for me to realise that living with LLR was not so different from living without any status. My family still lives in fear.
Before our status can be made permanent, we have to navigate our way through a 10-year immigration application process, that seems designed to trip us up. We will have to make four further, precisely-timed, applications to the Home Office, and pay over £8,000 in fees for each of the four of us.
For a family already struggling to make ends meet, this feels like we are being set up to fail; particularly, when you consider that the actual cost to the Home Office for processing applications is just £343 – with the rest of the £993 fee being profit for the government. It is government policy to increase fees every year, and they often give very little notice of the higher amount.
After years of being unable to work, while the Home Office considered our case, it was very difficult for my mum to get back into the job market. The only work she can find is low paid. Every spare penny after bills and essentials are paid, goes towards saving up to renew our LLR when it expires. This means I can’t go out with friends or go on school trips, or afford to just simply be a normal teenager. When we made our application, my family had managed to save up the £811 for each of us (we were lucky to avoid the overnight price hike to £993 that happened the next month), plus the £500-each NHS surcharge. However, we couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer to make our application for us. With legal aid having been taken away, no charity organisation we contacted would help us as we were not considered “destitute” enough, even though we were really struggling.
We were faced with having to fill out the 63-ish pages of a scary-looking application form for all four of us on our own. For a month, my mum and I worked through the application, collecting evidence and having the occasional moment of panic, worrying if we were doing this right. We couldn’t afford a lawyer to do the whole process, but we saved enough to pay for two legal appointments: one, at the beginning, where a solicitor explained the form to us; and then a session at the end, where she looked though the application and cleared up any last minute questions or problems we faced.
To be honest, having had a bad experience in the past with lawyers giving out wrong advice, I felt good about being in charge of our application. At least to an extent, I understood what was going on and didn’t feel in the dark anymore. However, this control meant a frightening amount of responsibility for my family’s future landed on my shoulders. If something was wrong with the application, it would feel like my fault. I’m constantly stressed and panicked, praying that I have done everything right.
The worst part is that I can’t really talk to anyone about it, because they wouldn’t understand why I am so stressed. Having lived for years without any status, and then experienced the relief that comes with being granted LLR, the thought that I could lose it again – and, with it, all the plans I’ve made, like going to university – because of a mistake on a form, is just heart-breaking.
Knowing I will have to do this again every two and a half years, is my daunting and nerve-racking reality. I am already starting to think about going through process again and we are saving hard for our next renewal, even though we don’t know how much it’s going to cost.