EU citizens living in the UK are facing immigration issues after Brexit, because of the pandemic.
This specifically concerns those with a Pre-Settled Status, who will not be able to apply for an indefinite leave to remain if they were absent from the UK for more than six months in any 12-month period.
Francesco, a research assistant in Health Economics in Glasgow, was in Italy when the first lockdown in Europe was announced in March.
He has a pre-settled status and wants to apply for settled status once the five years are up.
After coming back to the UK, because he was working remotely, his workplace allowed him to go back to Italy to his family.
Francesco said: “The support bubbles don’t offer real help. It doesn’t prevent anxiety and isolation, it feels more like a placebo.
“I haven’t lived with my parents for more than 10 years now. But at the same time, I kept them company and helped with practical things, like the groceries, and they helped me from a social point of view.”
Francesco said that he didn’t know about the six-month rule until October and several enquiries made with the Government.
In addition to worrying about his settled status, after spending a few months in Italy, Francesco was suddenly asked to come back by his employer due to tax reasons.
He left home two days after Christmas, on a £400 emergency flight that cost him five times what he would have paid usually.
Francesco said that both the Government and the employer should have been clearer regarding what his rights were.
He added: “I did not like the way the university told me last minute in December that we needed to come back.
“If I had known from the start, I would’ve acted differently. Not having to come back so suddenly would’ve prevented a lot of anxiety, as I would’ve been able to think ahead.
“Many people don’t wear masks here, whereas in Italy I was in an environment that felt safer.”
Mental health was identified as a common reason for people’s return home by Settled, an independent charity providing free support in different languages to EU citizens in the UK.
Toni Petkova, Settled’s Service Coordinator for London and the south-east, said: “The reasons for going back are different, but they are all connected to this pandemic and this time we are living. It is quite worrying for people, a lot of them are quite concerned and some are panicking.
“For people who are alone here, it’s very difficult. I would imagine that even knowing this they would go, because otherwise their mental health would suffer. They still go in hope that something will be changed because of the pandemic.”
The Home Office has not made an exception for people away during the pandemic, unless they are kept outside the country for extreme situations, such as illness.
Petkova said: “It should be less strict in this difficult time.
“No one is going on holiday. The difficulties in their lives made them go and stay there. There should be some exception to address this.
“And it is not clear for people. This also causes a lot of worry and concerns, as you find out only when you apply for settled status, by which it would be too late.”
Petkova also highlighted the difficulties vulnerable people, such as the elderly, have in navigating the system, due to the Government’s reluctance to incorporate a way to manage your status on paper, something that led to a campaign by the3million.
She said: “We are on the ground, we meet people every day when they tell us their issues. The problems they are encountering now will become much more severe after the deadline so the Government needs to listen.”