Names have been changed on the request of the member.
Victoria arrived in the UK in 2004 from a country in Africa. She had a work visa which was valid for two years and worked as a domestic cleaner in Southport. After two years she had to apply to extend her visa and was successful in receiving a one year extension from the Home Office. Victoria’s visa was subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds condition (NRPF). This meant she had to be completely self-sufficient in the UK, as she was not eligible to access the social security net. In 2006, Victoria moved to Bristol as she had some family friends living in the city. Every year she applied to have her visa extended by the Home Office and continued to work and support herself.
Everything changed in 2010 when her visa extension request was refused by the Home Office. They said she did not have enough money in her bank account. Victoria could not afford a lawyer to help her challenge or understand this decision. She had suddenly become an undocumented migrant in the UK. No longer able to work, Victoria was completely reliant on the community and her family friends for support. Victoria slept in different people’s living rooms – constantly reliant on others to survive.
“This time was very, very difficult – sometimes I don’t want to remember this time. When I think about it I get anxious.”
Victoria’s health was impacted by her situation: at one point her blood pressure reached over 200 mmHg. She felt very worried about her health. She was supported by her GP but struggled to be honest with the GP about her situation – she was scared that if anyone found out that she was undocumented she might be reported to the Home Office, detained and deported.
In 2015 Victoria had a son. Now things were even harder. When she was asking the community for help and places to stay she was asking for two, not just one. She was completely reliant on hand me downs of old baby clothes. Victoria felt like a bad mum – unable to give her son anything. Victoria and her son spent years living this way until a friend told her about the Asylum Team at Bristol City Council. Before she called them, Victoria fully researched the support they might be able to offer. Victoria was at breaking point: she called the asylum team and requested a face to face appointment. For the first time she told a professional her full situation.
As Victoria had a young child, under Section 17 of the 1989 Children’s Act the Asylum Team were able to offer Victoria and her son accommodation. They also helped Victoria with money both for groceries and to enable her son to attend school. Victoria and her son now live in a small one bedroom flat paid for under Section 17. They have their own kitchen and bathroom. While this is much easier than when they were sofa surfing, it is still challenging: Victoria and her son have to share a bed, and as her son grows Victoria feels more and more uncomfortable about this. Victoria has asked whether or not it would be possible to get a two bedroom place so that she and her son can have some privacy but has been told that she is lucky to have the place she has – other families on Section 17 support do not have their own kitchens and bathrooms.
Victoria finds it hard to think about the future. She wants the best for her son, but continues to feel that she has not provided for him. The ongoing uncertainty of her position also makes it hard to think about the future.
“Even things you think you could do this for my son like join a football team, you are scared that they will ask about your immigration status.”
“I don’t know the way forward. I can’t plan.”
The Asylum Team have helped Victoria to access an immigration solicitor who is working with her to see what immigration options are open for Victoria and her son to regularise their status in the UK. Victoria worries about her son and what will happen for him if they are not successful in getting documents to remain in the UK. She also struggles to explain their situation to him. He has started asking her about travelling: he wants to get a passport and travel abroad like he sees his friends at school do. Victoria does not know how to tell him that they can’t do this because they are undocumented in the UK. Instead she puts off this difficult conversation, telling him this is something they will do when he is older and in secondary school.
“Children are innocent in this. They don’t belong in any other place. The only place they know is here. My son, he does not even speak my language.”
Victoria says people like her are “just piling up”: the Home Office doesn’t give them leave to remain or turns down their applications to stay, but it also doesn’t deport them. Meanwhile, she sees news about skills shortages and the need to recruit for certain roles from abroad and feels frustrated.
“There are people here with skills. People who want to work but don’t have the right. People who could fill those positions in care jobs, in nursing if they were given the training and the opportunity to do so”.