PhD student denied UK residence

PhD student denied UK residence
Lone Nerup Sorensen

Lack of insurance an issue in 70% of immigration cases, survey finds

A lack of insurance is an issue in 70% of all new requests for immigration law advice since the EU referendum, a law firm has found.

The UK risks losing thousands of qualified workers, as graduates are denied permanent residence because they were not made aware of a requirement to take out private health insurance while studying.

Since the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, Leeds law firm Simpson Millar’s Immigration department has seen a 70% rise in enquiries from European nationals who are facing rejection because they have failed to take out Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI) when they arrived.

Emma Brooksbank is Head of Immigration at Simpson Millar. She says: “70% of all new enquiries we have had since the EU referendum include a CSI issue. In that time, we have advised more than 120 people who had failed to secure permanent residence, despite meeting all the other requirements, solely because they had not had CSI.

“The NHS is already considered to be adequate health insurance cover. For people who meet all other requirements for permanent residence, it is appalling that their applications are rejected because of this technicality. The Government should seriously consider retrospectively revoking the requirement to hold CSI as a student or self-sufficient person. As it stands, the country risks losing some of its most qualified graduates to countries that will make them feel more welcome.”

Lone Sørensen (39) is a Danish citizen living in North Yorkshire with her British husband (41) and her three-year old son. Her son was born and has always lived in the UK, and holds a British passport. Lone has been living and working in the UK on and off since first arriving as a student back in 2001, and has been continuously resident since January 2012. In total, she has spent over ten years in the country, working for a number of charities and on British public sector projects. She has paid tax and National Insurance for many years. In 2013, she was offered a scholarship with Leeds University to study a PhD. The couple relocated to Yorkshire, Lone began her PhD and had her baby. She has not relied on the benefits system in the UK at any time.

After the EU membership referendum, Lone felt it might be sensible to apply for permanent residence; something she assumed would be merely a formality. She was shocked to discover that not only did she not qualify. She was currently living in the country unlawfully.
Emma Brooksbank explains: “EU and European Economic Area students must have comprehensive sickness insurance in place for as long as they remain a student or a self-sufficient person.

“But although almost all EU students in the UK, including people like Lone, have their own resources and do not rely on the benefit system, they are still required to take out comprehensive sickness insurance. Unfortunately, many don’t because they are entirely unaware of the rules. Sadly, failing to take out private health insurance catches them out when they later decide to seek permanent residence – sometimes after years or decades of UK residency.”

Lone says: “Over the past 15 years, I have not once been told about Comprehensive Sickness Insurance. I didn’t even know what it was until I contacted the Home Office and was told that I didn’t qualify for permanent residence. There were plenty of people who could have told me about it – my GP, the University, the media and the Government – but no one did. Clearly, the government had not even informed universities about this requirement for students; when I asked my university’s immigration office, they knew nothing about it. This clearly indicates a systemic problem with communication.”

Lone called the Home Office to start the application process in January 2017 as she had been continuously resident for five years at that point.
She recalls: “From being absolutely convinced that I would easily qualify to stay in the UK permanently, I was suddenly told that I was an illegal immigrant. A few weeks later, the Home Office announced that people without CSI could get deported or even face prison. It was very uncomfortable, even scary. All the European PhD students in my office thought they were going to be sent to prison for 6 months, deported and barred from future naturalisation. We were scheduled to attend a conference in Paris but feared we might not be let back into the country. The lack of certainty and the threat of being separated from my family was horrendously stressful. Of course I took out health insurance as soon as I found out about the requirement, but what about the period where I didn’t know about it? The Home Office has said nothing about how that will be viewed.”

“Although Lone has now lived in the UK for the required five-year period, she will have to essentially ‘start over’ from the day she took out health insurance,” says Emma. “It is a disgrace that she and other students and graduates like her are being treated in this way.”

Lone is now paying around £40 per month for an insurance policy she has no personal need for or has any intention of using. The total cost will be £2400 by the time she is able to apply for permanent residence again, five years from now. “If at least the money went to the NHS and not a random private insurance company, that would make me feel a bit better about it,” she says.

The Government is currently claiming that although it is still unlawful for students not to have CSI, it will not enforce the rules. But Lone says the entire process has changed how she feels about her place in the UK: “When I first phoned the Home Office in June and told them I was a student, the person at the other end said that I was considered ‘a burden on the system’. I have paid taxes in the UK for years, and never received any benefits. Being labelled ‘a burden’ was a really ugly experience. Surely, education should be considered a positive and not a negative occupation.

“Different identities have been imposed on me – illegal immigrant, burden on the system. I’ve always seen myself as a valuable member of society, also of British society. Now I feel I am being treated as a second-rate resident in a country that does not want me.

“My husband and I are very concerned about the direction we are heading in. We just don’t know what will happen in the future, or whether the rules will change so that, yet again, I won’t qualify for permanent residence. I have at all times acted in good faith but in this situation, that seems to count for very little.”

Emma says: “There is, understandably, a great deal of fear and anxiety amongst European nationals – current students and graduates who were not aware of the CSI requirement. I am confident in telling them not to worry about deportation, but sad that their applications for permanent residence will be rejected en masse over a technicality that makes no sense in practical terms.

“The Government should seriously consider amending the regulations regarding CSI so that it complies with the European Commission’s demand under the Free Movement Directive: ‘EU citizens who settle in another EU country but do not work there may be required to have sufficient resources and sickness insurance. The United Kingdom, however, does not consider entitlement to treatment by the UK public healthcare scheme (NHS) as sufficient.”

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