If the Home Office were an animal, it would be a vulture, alligator, sloth or even a cockroach, young migrants have said in a new report focused on the mental health impacts of the UK’s immigration system.
Published on Thursday by We Belong, an organisation led by young people who migrated to the UK, the report features in-depth interviews with 15 young migrants living in the UK under the Limited Leave to Remain (LLR) programme.
Under the scheme, migrants must leave the UK at the end of a specified visa period. If they want to remain in the UK, they must apply for an extension or request further leave or indefinite leave to remain.
For many, We Belong said, the programme means having to make “repeated, costly and bureaucratic Home Office applications every 30 months for at least a decade" until they become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
With the reapplication process costing £2,593 each time, the organisation said, young migrants are having to “save the equivalent of £86 a month to cover Home Office fees, or they risk losing their lawful immigration status".
Some of the young migrants who spoke with We Belong described suffering serious mental health impacts from the stress caused by the reapplication process, as well as the uncertainty they face over how long they will be able to remain in the UK.
Interviewees linked the Limited Leave to Remain programme with a number of symptoms, including panic attacks, thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
They also described suffering from insomnia, headaches, chest pain, anxiety, depression and "uncontrollable sobbing".
Asked what animal the Home Office would be if they were to choose any creature, participants described frightening scenes.
For Jemma, a 25-year-old who arrived in the UK at the age of two, the Home Office was described as an “alligator” that “just keeps dragging you back with its powerful jaws”.
“The way they increase the fees. It's like when you're trying to escape from the alligator,” Jemma said in the report.
Another participant said they would describe the Home Office as a vulture that is always "circling around you, waiting for your downfall".
“Vultures are wretched animals, aren’t they? They’re just always watching with evil eyes, just circling around you, waiting for your downfall. They never let go,” Zara, a 19-year-old participant said.
“The littlest thing they can hold against you and say, ‘Oh, sorry. We can’t renew your status’. They’re just waiting for that little thing to swoop. For me, that’s what the Home Office is.”
Two participants, Oliver, a 25-year-old who arrived in the UK at the age of 11 and April, a 24-year-old who arrived at the age of eight, described the agency as a “sloth".
“They are very stupid and very slow, especially with the application responses. Everything they do is incredibly slow and seems not very thorough or thoughtful," Oliver said.
“I would say a sloth," April said. "Only because of how slow they are.”
The Home Office was further described as a “very venomous” snake, an “annoying” cockroach and a “deceptively aggressive” meerkat.
Overall, the majority of participants said they believed the Home Office’s immigration rules were taking a toll on their mental health.
Of the 15 young people interviewed, 13 agreed with the statement: “I am worried about the impact of the immigration process on my own long-term mental health".
Meanwhile, 14 said they were worried about the impact the immigration system was having on the mental health of their family members, while six said they worried about their immigration status “every day”.
'While politicians talk blithely about integration, our government continues to preside over an immigration system that stigmatises, isolates and impoverishes young migrants who have grown up in the UK," We Belong co-CEOs Chrisann Jarrett and Dami Makinde said in the report.
“Our country cannot afford to go on like this: too much harm is being inflicted; too much ambition and talent is being hobbled - or even extinguished,” they said.
In its conclusion, We Belong offered a “five-point plan for reform” that would see the establishment of a five-year path to settlement for those who have lived in the UK for half their lives or more.
It would also see the costs of the LLR fee limited to the “actual cost of processing each application” and stipulate that fees only be increased to match inflation.
The report also calls for a “fairer, more comprehensive fee waiver system” that would allow more applications to be approved, with Home Office figures suggesting that upwards of three-quarters of requests are rejected.
Finally, the report calls for a review of the Immigration Health Surcharge, which was introduced in 2015.
The surcharge is meant to ensure that people in the UK temporarily pay towards the cost of the NHS. However, the We Belong report calls for “an urgent review to consider introducing an exemption for migrants who have lived in the UK half their lives and to make the payment a one-time fee paid when LLR is first granted.”
“Reforms of this kind would end the ‘double tax’ paid by many people with LLR, because they or their families are working and already paying towards the cost of the NHS through taxation," the report states.
In a statement sent to The Independent, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We take extremely seriously our duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children thought the Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act.
“We recognise there may be some children and their families struggle to pay for fees, which is why fee waivers are available for those making human rights applications who are destitute or at risk of imminent destitution."
The Home Office has said its fees are set above cost recovery to reflect the administrative cost of processing applications, as well as the benefits for those granted leave.
The Home Office said it keeps these fees under review.