A Finnish academic was threatened with deportation and detention despite being an EU national married to a Brit and paying taxes in Britain.
After she publicised the letter that told her she was now ‘a person liable to administrative removal’, the Home Office admitted they had mistakenly sent out ‘100 or so’ letters that threatened recipients with deportation.
Cultural Historian Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg is a visiting academic fellow from the University of Helsinki currently at Queen Mary University of London and has lived in the UK with her husband for almost a decade.
When Theresa May triggered Article 50, Holmberg applied to confirm her status as an EU-qualified person who had the right to remain in the UK for “peace of mind”.
However, on 29th June, Holmberg’s application was refused on a ‘technicality’ because:
University of Helsinki [is] not located in the UK, therefore you are not employed in the UK.
Holmberg decided not to spend money reapplying, believing they were simply confused and that the issue would be rectified. She said:
I thought that it seems that they don’t even know what’s going on and that a new system is coming soon so I thought I’ll just wait until they sort themselves out and figure out what kind of documentation and proof is needed. So, I spoke to my husband and friends and decided to just leave this, at least I don’t have to leave the UK – it’s OK.
Then, last Thursday, Holmberg received the shock notice telling her that ‘a decision has been taken to remove you from the UK’. She shared the letter on social media and it received a lot of attention:
— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) August 23, 2017
The Guardian contacted the Home Office to ask for clarification of Holmberg’s situation, where they ‘immediately backtracked’, saying that ‘the letter was one of around a hundred that were sent by mistake’.
The Home Office said:
A limited number of letters were issued in error and we have been urgently looking into why this happened. We are contacting everyone who received this letter to clarify that they can disregard it. We are absolutely clear that the rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged.
Though the Home Office called Holmberg to ‘apologise profusely’, she had already spent £3,800 on legal costs. She said:
The best way to apologise and ease my distress would be to cover my expenses.
However, the person on the phone would not confirm that the government would indeed cover her legal costs that amounted due to their ‘incompetence’.
EU citizens worried for their future status
According to The Guardian, the Home Office could not confirm how many of the letters went out to EU nationals, but said that all were from within the European Economic Area.
James McGrory, executive director of the pro-EU pressure group Open Britain, voiced concern that the error would result in other EU citizens in the UK fearing for their future:
“This is shameful stuff from the same department that gave us the disgraceful ‘go home vans’ a few years ago.
It’s little wonder that many EU citizens feel worried about their future status in the UK when they hear of people with every right to be here getting letters threatening their deportation.”
EU nationals have previously been told by the government to ‘stay calm and wait to apply for the right to remain until new systems are put in place next year’.
However, their unease is understandable when absurd errors like the one Dr Holmberg and many others have experienced are allowed to happen. How is anybody supposed to trust a system being designed by people who are clearly incompetent?
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