Karim* is from Iran and has been in the UK for 20 years, housed by Action Foundation’s Accommodation project for the last five. His asylum case had been refused multiple times and his mental health was extremely fragile as a result of everything that had happened to him.

Action Foundation Support Worker Marian told us: “Karim had been homeless for about 10 years so it was hard for him to get any new evidence for his asylum case and so he was living in a kind of limbo.”

Crucial help from North East Law Centre

If you’ve been in the UK for 20 years another route opens up for you legally. However this costs thousands of pounds and involves an intense amount of admin, so would usually be out of reach for an asylum seeker with no income and limited language skills.

But there was hope on the horizon, The North East Law Centre had some special funding, part of a ‘fee waiver’ project funded by the Guardian and Observer 2018 Charity Appeal. The Law Centres Network (LCN) was one of the recipients of these funds because of their work defending people subject to the UK’s ‘hostile environment’.

Law Centres were able to pitch individual projects to the LCN and proposed making fee waiver requests on behalf of clients who were applying for Leave to Remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life.

These applications incur a Home Office fee of £1,033 with an additional £1,000 Immigration Health Surcharge – i.e. over £2,000 per person. It is possible to request a fee waiver, but this process takes a lot of time and effort. Legal Aid is not available and, by definition, someone making a fee waiver request cannot afford to pay a private solicitor to do this work.

‘One of the lucky ones’

Tristan Smith, the solicitor who worked on Karim’s case told us: “As part of this project, I made around 20 fee waiver requests along with the subsequent immigration applications. Karim was one of the lucky ones who we were able to help.”

“He has now been granted Leave to Remain in the UK for 2.5 years. This allows him to work, open a bank account, rent accommodation, etc. We also successfully argued that the Home Office should not impose the usual NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds) condition because he would be destitute but for the support provided by Action Foundation.”

“This means that Karim is entitled to claim mainstream benefits for the time being. He is on a ‘ten-year route to settlement’, which means that he must make another three applications for 2.5 years’ Leave to Remain before he is eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK.”

Gruelling process

“Each one of those applications costs over £2,000 so there is a long way to go before he can secure the right to live in the UK permanently.”

Karim’s application was made under Paragraph 276ADE of the Immigration Rules, where the Home Office accepts that someone has established a private life in the UK if they have lived here continuously for 20 years. It is an incredibly high threshold to reach and is the last resort for people who have been refused asylum but cannot be removed from this country.

Tristan added: “In effect, the UK government is forcing people to live in destitution for two decades before they are allowed to regularise their status. It is to Karim’s great credit that he has managed to keep himself above water for so long. There is no doubt that the support Karim received from Action Foundation helped towards the success of his application.”

“Marian was able to work with Karim to collect enough evidence to prove that he had been living here continuously for 20 years. This is no mean feat, considering that he needed to find at least one original document from each of those years!”

‘A noticeable lift’

Once the progress with regularising his status started to look serious, Marian says there was a noticeable lift in Karim’s attitude and wellbeing. “He started carrying himself differently – he started shaving, dressing differently. It’s like he remembered who he is, that there’s a point to things.”

She continued: “He was able to start recovering some of the confidence that had been squashed out of him over the 20 years he’d been at the harsh end of government policies living in the UK. He had the confidence to start seeking appropriate GP help for longstanding health issues, which previously he didn’t have the motivation or trust to seek professional help with.”

Looking to the future

“He’s never had a plan or been able to think about the future and what he’d like to do. Now he needs to think about that – he almost can’t yet. He’s hasn’t had a choice about anything before – he’s been entirely reliant on other people for things like food, shopping, travel, phone top-up. It’s a huge adjustment.”

Karim will be staying in Action Letting for a few months until he’s ready for more independence and will then move on to rented accommodation. This gives him the stability and base to start thinking about his future.

Karim hopes to start studying for some English qualifications which will open opportunities for getting a job doing maintenance work.

When Marian spoke to Karim he was so grateful and couldn’t thank Action Foundation enough for all the support he has received. “It was like he didn’t know what to say after 20 years of waiting. It must have been so much for him to take in.”

*We have used a different name to protect our beneficiary’s identity

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