How do I know if a child or young person needs support?

For some children and young people growing up in London, it will be obvious they need support with their status. Children who arrive in the UK and seek asylum, either with their families or alone, will need help through the asylum system. Children and young people from countries in the European Union and the wider European Economic Area (EEA) will also need support over the coming years.

But there are many more children and young people who may be unaware of any issues with their citizenship or residence rights. Young Londoners sometimes grow up in the UK from an early age without knowing that they are undocumented. They go through life not realising their unresolved immigration status or the implications it will have later in their life.

In these situations, there may be signs that the child or young person is not British and does not have secure immigration status. Relevant questions to ask are:

  • Since arriving in the UK have they left the country for:
    a) school trips?
    b) family vacations?
    c) holidays with friends?
  • If they are aged 16 or above:
    a) have they received their National Insurance number (NI)?
    b) can they apply for a provisional driving licence?
    c) do they have documents to prove they can legally work in the UK?
  • Do they have a bank account?
  • Can they get the health care they need?
  • Are they able to get into college without difficulties?
  • Are they able to access student finance to attend their chosen university?
  • Have they ever seen a British passport in their name?

If the answer to some of these questions is no, there may be unresolved immigration issues to address.

A case study: Andrew's story

I was born and partially raised in South America, Georgetown, Guyana. I am the youngest of five siblings and I have two brothers and two sisters. As a young child I had little to no memory of my parents as my father lived in America and my mother moved to the UK when I was only three years old. Seven years later, a few months after my 10th birthday, I sat on a plane with my two brothers heading towards the UK – anxious to meet my mother for what felt like the first time ever.

After arriving in the UK, I attended school like any other child at my age. So, since the age of ten I have lived in London – this is my home. The idea that I was living illegally in this country never crossed my mind. However, when reflecting, there were always clues that something was not right. My brother who played semi-professional basketball was not able to play in Europe and had to give up his position in his team because he could not provide a valid passport or documents. I was not allowed to take school trips outside of the country and for many years we were constantly moving houses until we were at one point homeless. We were lucky to be aided by friends and family. 

It was only between the ages of 16 and 17 when I began to understand my situation. On applying to university, I realised that I did not have the right documentation to access student finance: no British passport, and no limited leave to remain document to prove my legal residency. I spoke to my mother about this and she told me the truth about my situation – I was undocumented.

I wasted no time in seeking help. I contacted various organisations to ask for assistance. I spoke to my previous teachers about the issue and asked for advice. I found out about the high cost of the Home Office application to regularise my status and realised I could not possibly afford this.  One organisation offered pro-bono help with my application because all access to legal aid had been removed a few years before, but then their funding ran out. I finally reached out to all my friends and family and asked them to help us pay for our application. After several months we saved enough money to pay for a solicitor to help us with our Home Office application. We are still waiting for the Home Office’s decision.

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