Nearly 1.4 million foreign nationals living and working legally in the UK have no recourse to public funds (NRPF), according to new reseach by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford for the charity Citizens Advice.
This is an increase on previous estimates which put the figure at 1.1 million and means that tens of thousands are facing the unenviable choice of continuing to work during the Coronavirus pandemic or face poverty and destitution.
Citizens Advice warns that unless NRPF restrictions are lifted people will continue to face this dilemma. Return to work when they are ill or their workplace is not Covid-secure and so risking their health or that of their household.
Some families are even being forced to split up by the policy. Those applying for leave to remain for spouses or family members are required to demonstrate a minimum income of £18,600 per annum, which may be impossible during the pandemic.
40 year-old Kwesi from London works as a security guard and has a 13 year-old son who lives with his ex-wife. He also has type 1 diabetes.
When coronavirus reached the UK, Kwesi was advised by his doctor to shield and he was no longer able to work. He found that he couldn’t pay his rent and he didn’t have enough money for food. He also couldn’t provide any financial support for his son.
He said: “When coronavirus came I was told not to work because I’m at risk. I couldn’t pay my rent, I couldn’t even provide for myself or my son.
“I was sleeping in a friend’s shed and then I stayed on the couch of a family friend but I became a burden to them and they asked me to leave. That’s when I started applying for public funds.
“At the same time, my leave to remain was actually expiring, which I didn’t have the funds to renew. I haven’t received any reply [from the Home Office]. They have my ID and passport with them, which is up to date.
“Luckily I got a job and was able to earn some money to rent a room in a house share. Even though I’m putting my health at risk I have no other option. I would like in the future to be able to have my own place so my son can come and stay with me.
“With all the stress and agony I’ve gone through, it’s just a shame the Government hasn’t been able to do anything for me. They need to see that there are genuine people that need help.”
The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt especially hard by people subject to these rules, says Citizens Advice. The charity has reported a 110% increase in the number of people seeking help with NRPF during the pandemic.
Since March 11, the day Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, Citizens Advice has helped someone every 20 minutes with NRPF.
The research also shows that the policy disproportionality affects people from the BAME community, with 82% of people helped with an NRPF issue by the charity in the last year being Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic background.
Migrants from non-EEA countries are disproportionately likely to work in frontline roles, including in healthcare, care work and security jobs. Better support for people affected by these rules can support a safer easing of lockdown measures, says Citizens Advice.
The charity is calling for the temporary suspension of NRPF, the Habitual Residence Test, and the £18,600 minimum income requirement. All those on a 5-year route to settlement whose income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic should also not to be moved onto a 10-year route because they cannot show minimum income.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The revelation that almost 1.4 million people have no recourse to public funds is shocking. Without the security of the welfare safety net, many have faced and will continue to face impossible choices concerning their health and that of their families.
“The government must suspend NRPF rules for the duration of the pandemic. People of colour have already been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“Migrants who are overwhelmingly from Black, Asian or from other minority ethnic backgrounds backgrounds should not have to take unnecessary risks as lockdown is reduced. Anyone experiencing hardship caused by the pandemic should not see any impact on their long-term immigration status.
“The government has provided some measures to support people with NRPF, such as making them eligible for the Job Retention Scheme and providing emergency funding to councils. Despite this, we are seeing significant increases in the numbers of people seeking our help.”