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The muddy waters of self-sufficiency in Directive 2004/38 – A Citizen’s Story

A Citizen’s Story

 In all the rhetoric surrounding free movement, it is easy to forget that the issue affects real people. Mr. L has kindly offered to share his story with us. He has been living in the UK for 9 years and is married to a non-EEA citizen. In those 9, neither Mr. L nor Mrs. L has claimed benefits. In addition, he has been denied a UK residence card, on the basis that he does not have private health insurance.

I moved to Britain 9 years ago, soon after my home country joined the EU. I came in order to improve my English, explore new horizons and possibly start a new life in an exciting, multicultural land. I began working two days after my arrival, first as a manual labourer at a ladder factory, and later behind the bar at a club. There I met my future wife, who worked alongside me. She is originally from Kenya and when we met she had already been living in Britain for a few years as a student. She was about to finish her BA degree and she inspired me to also take up studying. We started working at a country hotel together, her as a receptionist and me as a night porter, and got married less than a year later; I commenced my studies soon afterwards.

I continued working as a night porter during the first year of university. Managing both my work and my studies was very difficult, and so I really welcomed the opportunity to receive a student loan and a grant from the second year onwards. The loan freed me to focus exclusively on my education. I first achieved a Foundation Degree with Distinction, and subsequently obtained a first class BA Honours degree. After my undergraduate studies, I was first self- employed in my field. Later, I recommenced my studies and obtained a Master’s degree with merit. Although my self-employment earnings have been gradually increasing, I have not quite been able to reach a decent wage. Meanwhile, my wife has been working full-time in the public sector (continuously for over 6 years now) and has been able to secure our livelihood. We now have a beautiful 4 months-old baby girl.

After living in the country continuously for 5 years, following every rule diligently and never claiming benefits I applied for a permanent residence card. This was rejected by the Home Office on the basis that I had not had private medical insurance when I was a studying and because I was not considered “economically self-sufficient.” This made absolutely no sense to me, since I had clearly been eligible for NHS treatment, had already worked in the country continuously for two years to start with, and besides, my wife had been working steadily and paying high taxes for the whole time.

I tried to obtain private health insurance subsequently, but could not really afford the cost. I also knew that the money would simply be wasted because was healthy and would not need the insurance at all. It would only be paying to (maybe) satisfy a capricious Home Office rule, a rule which is in no way helping to ease the ‘burden’ on the UK National Health Service. Its only purpose seems to be to deny unlucky EU nationals the sense of safety and security, even after they have made Britain their home. It seems to be the government’s cynical hope that these ‘aliens’ will do a couple of years of (migrant) working and (local) tax paying, and then return to where they came from – thus balancing the government’s alarmist net migration numbers by a negligible fraction.

This Home Office encounter in combination with the growing (and irrational) anti-immigration rhetoric endlessly spun in the British media have made us feel insecure and intimidated in our chosen country of residence. My wife has a non-EEA nationality and we have seen how the UK government treats family members of their own nationals (mercilessly deporting non-EU residents on the basis that their British ‘sponsor’ does not meet brutal income criteria). We feel that our most fundamental, existential needs are in the hands of whimsical officials who do not shy away from breaking the European law or from cynically twisting and misinterpreting it where it suits them.

Although we have lived in the country for 9 years as a couple, contributed substantially in taxes and never claimed benefits, we are unable to make proper plans for the future. Instead, we wait anxiously for the next time our fate will be decided by a powerful stranger. We cannot be sure whether my wife’s residence permit will be extended or denied on the basis of Britain’s further rebellion against basic human rights.

Luckily, we now have some hope. After learning about the EU Rights Clinic, I got in touch and the clinic members agreed to represent me in this matter. We have had numerous email exchanges and a few Skype calls. They have explored my case thoroughly and I have received comprehensive advice from them. The Clinic even made the Home Office reconsider one of my previous applications (albeit to no avail, as expected this time around). It is really comforting to see that the EU Rights Clinic is committed to the case and wants to help. With the Clinic’s assistance, I will soon apply for permanent residence again (for the third time), and subsequently appeal a negative decision in court.

I hope that common sense and fairness will prevail and that, thanks to the help from the EU Rights Clinic, our rights will finally be asserted Hopefully, in a not-too-distant future, both my wife and I will have our permanent residence confirmed in the UK. We will finally have peace.

*emphasis added