‘I’ve been here 50 years’: the EU citizens struggling for the right to stay in Britain


Doris Ratnam, a German citizen, trying to use the UK’s settled status app, helped by Stephanie Dawoud. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

If they don’t secure the correct status, most EU nationals living in the UK post-Brexit will be classified as illegal immigrants. And after the Windrush scandal, we know what that looks like. By Amelia Gentleman

Tue 8 Oct 2019

In early May, Doris Ratnam sat at her kitchen table, trying to scan her German passport with her mobile phone. She was applying for “settled status” in the UK, the new immigration status the 3.4 million or so EU nationals living in Britain need to acquire if they want to stay in the country legally after Brexit. Ratnam, who is 72 and has lived in London since arriving as an au pair in 1968, was annoyed that she should be required to apply to remain in a country she considers her home.

She was flustered by the process of attempting to get her phone to suck all her personal details out of her passport. Something was not working, and we sat for 20 minutes in near silence as she moved the phone slowly over the cover of the passport, as shown in a reassuring Home Office Youtube video, trying to get it to read the chip hidden inside the document. “Move the phone to read the chip,” Ratnam muttered, studying the guidance notes. “What am I supposed to do? Move the phone to find the chip. I feel stressed … it’s the technology.”

After repeated failed attempts, the app informed her she had been locked out of the system for 24 hours. It would take two-and-a-half months, two visits to the local town hall (an hour on two buses each way), a £15 appointment fee and numerous calls to a Home Office helpline before her status was approved. The process was dispiriting. “I shouldn’t be made to feel like a foreigner again after such a long time here,” she said.

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