by LAUREN CODLING
A HEALTHCARE worker has revealed the “living nightmare” of being put on the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) immigration status by the Home Office, as migrant groups called for the condition to be scrapped.
Sonia Rawal*, 36, has been put on NRPF twice after applying for a visa. The NRPF condition means an individual (who is not a British national and is in the UK on a visa) has no access to the majority of welfare benefits, Home Office asylum support for asylum seekers or to public housing.
The single mother-of-two has had to fight both times to be allowed access to public funds. Although Rawal alleged she can now access funds following a court battle with the Home Office, she has described the experience as a “living nightmare”.
She is still in significant debt from her time on NRPF, when she had to take out credit card loans to afford rent and food.
“It’s very stressful – especially as a parent when you feel you are unable to give your children the best,” she told Eastern Eye. “I have struggled to buy school uniforms and there have been times when the school has asked me to buy things such as a costume for a school play and I felt like I had failed my children (because I couldn’t afford it). I constantly think about debts, having to pay off the home office, thinking how I can afford food and rent…it feels impossible.”
Rawal, who is based in London, is currently on the 10-years residence rule. This means she has to renew her visa every two and a half years for 10 years until she can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
Rawal is due to renew her visa next year. As she is now working part-time as a healthcare worker, Rawal is fearful the extra income will mean the Home Office will put her on NRPF again. However, she said she needs the extra income to help look after her children. Her youngest child, who is four years old, needs to be looked after by a childminder while Rawal is working.
Childcare costs around £600 per month. “I really wouldn’t be surprised if they put me back on NRPF,” she said. “I don’t want to be on benefits forever, it is just a little help because my kids are still young.”
Labour MP Claudia Webbe called for an end to the NRPF status last month. In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, Webbe highlighted the plight of some UK residents with NRPF.
She said thousands had “been driven into destitution” during the coronavirus crisis. Recent Home Office statistics showed the number of migrants with NRPF applying for destitution funds increased by 572 per cent during the coronavirus crisis.
“The government claims to be ‘protecting public funds’ by preventing vulnerable migrants from accessing basic benefits,” the Leicester East MP told Eastern Eye, “yet they do not exhibit this same frugality when handing out wasteful, multi-million contracts to private companies, or enabling multi-billionaires and corporations to evade tax.
“As we embark on the deepest recession since records began, it is crucial that all residents, regardless of their immigration status, must be able to afford to stay safe during this pandemic.”
Webbe, who said many workers with NRPF live in her constituency, said the government must ensure that all migrants have automatic access to resources “without fear of detention or deportation by abolishing the NRPF provision”.
A number of migrant groups have also urged the Home Office to consider scrapping the NRPF. Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice, has called the NRPF condition “cruel and self-defeating”.
“There are so many people who are working and paying taxes and, unlike the rest of us, aren’t entitled to anything in return,” she told Eastern Eye. “Many have to spend months or even years fighting in the courts, just to access the small amount of child benefit they need.”
Ramadan said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the NRPF to be removed. “Now, and in the future, we need a society where everyone can access the basic support they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” she said. “Surely, that’s not too much to ask.”
Mahlea Babjak, London Projects Coordinator at Migrants’ Rights Network, has also called for the end of the NRPF immigration status. She claimed it perpetuates structural inequality and racism, which “we have seen play out in the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 experienced by BAME and migrant communities”.
“The Migrants’ Rights Network are calling for an end to the unjust and inhumane NRPF restrictions enabled by the UK’s hostile environment policy,” Babjak told Eastern Eye. “Everyone, including migrants, is worthy of living in an equitable society where they can flourish.”
Going forward, Rawal believes the government should look at individual cases and “react accordingly” to their circumstances. “I feel I’m trapped in a cage and I can’t get out of it until I get ILR and then I’ll be free,” Rawal said. “If (the Home Office) could just consider individual cases, they would make the right decision.”
In response to Eastern Eye, a government spokesperson said: “Those seeking to establish their family life in the UK must do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration. However, individuals who have a right to be in the UK on account of their family life or other human rights reasons can apply to have the NRPF condition lifted by making a ‘change of conditions’ application if their financial circumstances change.”
On Rawal’s case, the spokesperson claimed it was false to say NRPF conditions were lifted due to a court order.
“The individual’s NRPF conditions were lifted after the applicant met the necessary requirements and she is currently able to claim benefits,” the spokesperson said. “The individual was previously granted leave with NRPF in 2013 and this decision was later reconsidered after she wrote to the Home Office requesting for the conditions to be lifted.”
In response, Rawal alleged she had always met the necessary requirements and was eligible for public funds. She also stands by her claim that the conditions were lifted due to a court order.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.