Young, hard-working and highly educated, Dr Andrea Chiarelli is seemingly the perfect candidate for Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain.
An Italian consultant and researcher with a PhD in Engineering from the University of Nottingham, he has lived in the city for five years.
Yet it has taken evenings and weekends sifting through years’ worth of documents for his right to remain in the UK to be assured.
“It is a stressful process,” he says. “The application took about 20 days, but the preparation time took quite a bit longer.
“Since I came here as a student, I had no HMRC records for the first two-and-a-half years. This meant I had to gather bank statements, council tax bills and university documents to prove my residence. Finding these was not always easy.”
The 30-year-old came to the UK from Alba in 2014 to study. It meant he could not apply for settlement through the Government’s automated document checking system, as this primarily relies on work-based documents.
‘Immigration-related stuff makes you feel bad’
His difficulties were exacerbated by uncertainty over Brexit and an absence of Government contact on this issue.
“After applying, I got a confirmation email and then nothing between that day and the day the application was successful.
“It was a bit concerning as October was approaching and the threat of Brexit was getting closer. Luckily it didn’t happen, but I definitely felt pressure to secure my position as quickly as possible to avoid any issues later on.”
For Andrea, the confusing and slow-moving application system epitomises the Government’s approach towards Brexit as a whole. “The Government’s handling of Brexit has been a bit of a mess.
“There is advice and guidance, which is fine, but it can be pretty difficult to navigate, and face-to-face support is only available in a limited number of locations.”
“It is a stressful process because everything related to immigration makes you feel unwanted.”
The Government’s inadequate handling of the Brexit process did little to ease Andrea’s anxiety over his future, leading him to feel a little out of place.
“It is a stressful process because everything related to immigration makes you feel somewhat unwanted. I know I have the right to be here and to do what I’m doing, but immigration-related stuff makes you feel bad.”
‘If you don’t follow certain processes, you don’t stay’
Despite his issues with the process, he is keen to acknowledge that there are people in more difficult situations than himself. “When you’re an immigrant you’ll be subject to certain processes and if you don’t follow them, you don’t stay. It’s not nice but this is the law.”
This is echoed by his wife, Sara, 30, who came to the UK from Marrakesh in Morocco to study architecture. “I found the process of applying for settled status straightforward, but this is unfortunately not the case for many other immigrants.”
Alexandra Bulat, Chair of pressure group the3million’s Young Europeans, explains the challenges for many migrants in the UK.
“The Government is keen to repeat that ‘EU citizens are our friends, colleagues and neighbours and we want them to stay.’ Unfortunately, this is not how it feels for everyone.
“The system is particularly difficult for those with limited language and digital skills, the elderly, children in care and many other groups of EU citizens at risk. There will be thousands of people who will fail to apply by the deadline unless the Government does more.”
The Home Office insists that it is working to ensure that all applicants to the scheme have extensive support throughout the process, introducing a dedicated telephone advice service, online information and face-to-face support at over 300 help centres across the UK.
But with 1.4 million EU citizens yet to apply for settlement there are still many people the Government has failed to reach.
‘If my well-being is threatened, I’m out of here’
Home Office figures also show migrants are facing a rise in racism and hate crimes since the Brexit vote.
Concerned about growing levels of intolerance in the country, Andrea says: “I am worried about the current racist narratives and toxicity in politics.
“Nottingham is my home, but if my well-being is threatened, I’m out of here. I don’t want to leave, but I will if I have to.”
The possibility of losing immigrants like Andrea is worrying for Nottingham City Councillor Pavlos Kotsonis. “EU citizens live, work and contribute to British society. They deserve to be here, but they are treated like outcasts and are made to feel unwelcome.
“We could drive out skilled professionals; doctors, nurses, teachers. This is a needless risk for the country.”
“It’s a relief that my settlement is now sorted and I’m looking forward to applying for British citizenship in the future.”
Regardless of frustrations with the Settlement Scheme and increasingly challenging circumstances, Andrea is pleased that he has now secured indefinite settlement in a country that is very important to him, and has no immediate plans to leave.
“It’s a relief that my settlement is now sorted and I’m looking forward to applying for British citizenship in the future.
“I have strong ties here and I’m happy that I get to stay.”