French woman ‘heartbroken’ after losing job in UK after Brexit speaks out

Paris: A French woman has spoken about how she lost her job in Shropshire and was left “heartbroken” about life in the UK because of a mix-up over the immigration process for EU citizens launched after Brexit.

Sophie, who is married to a British man, was in the UK for five years before Brexit but went back to France in 2020 for 18 months after a family tragedy.

Under the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the rights of British citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK to live and work in their country of residence before Brexit are protected.

When she eventually applied to the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) in early 2022, Sophie knew she had missed the June 2021 deadline but also knew from the government website that late applications were being considered if there were “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline.

Her application in early 2022 was, however, refused on the grounds that she had “not evidenced clearly enough” that she “had continued to live with my husband when I was in France which was a little confusing”.

On legal advice, she decided to launch a formal appeal through the asylum and immigration tribunal system, a route open to all EU citizens applying for the EUSS.

She sensed something was awry when she did not receive a certificate of application, a document that confirms the right to work and live in the UK while applications are being considered for the EUSS.

Nonetheless, through a “share code”, a digital identification number issued by the Home Office for applicants, she was able to evidence she had the right to work and got a job in a logistics firm near her home.

“There was never really any problem. I was just waiting patiently for an answer. Using the share code my employer did the right-to-work check and it came back positive very quickly.

“It was only valid for six months so they renewed it again in July and then just at the start of December 2023 they ran the right-to-work check again and it came back that I didn’t have the right to work.”

With employers facing fines of £20,000 for employing illegal workers, Sophie received shock news. “They told me they had to let me go. They did say, ‘this is your job and it’s not going anywhere’, but in the meantime I was effectively dismissed,” she said.

“I’ve not been able to earn any money since December and in the middle of a cost of living crisis it’s a little bit tough.

“I am heartbroken, to be honest. I’ve been in love with the UK since I was a little girl and this is why I came here. This situation seems dangerous but also foolish because I’m willing to work, to make a contribution to society. I want to work. I want to be autonomous, I don’t want to be claiming benefits. But they are not letting me.”

After inquiries were made to the Home Office last week by the Guardian, it emerged that Sophie may have made an application through the wrong route in the EUSS. She should have applied for the EU settlement scheme in its own right, not the family permit, as this was designed for relatives joining EU citizens in the UK from abroad.

This may also explain why she was not issued a certificate of application. She is seeking legal advice, applying for the EU settlement scheme and hoping her late application will be approved.

“Through the past two years at no point did I have a case worker, a point of contact, or any guidance on my rights. The whole system feels like it is set up for failure and to push people through the paid-for visa route,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “More than two years have passed since the main deadline for applying to the EU settlement scheme, which was widely publicised. In line with the citizens’ rights agreements, we continue to accept and consider late applications from those with reasonable grounds for their delay in applying.”