A ‘loving’ school dinner lady from Brent who has lived in the UK for 17 years needs to raise £5,500 in exactly two weeks so she and her twins, aged 11, can continue living in the country. She first needs to raise a costly amount of money for her children’s naturalisation, when a non-British person who is not born in the UK is legally made a British citizen, eventually obtaining a British passport.
Despite all of her children being born in this country, Ene Okpe Igiehon needs to apply for British Citizenship for her twins as well as paying for a temporary visa for herself by July 7 – otherwise the Home Office will deem them ‘overstayers’ and Ene could lose her job at the school she has worked at for seven years in Kingsbury.
Ene, who is originally from Nigeria, told MyLondon: “My children were born here, they’ve never been to the country where I came from but they don’t have the right to be British until they get to a certain age. They don’t even have British Citizenship, they have to go through naturalisation.”
READ MORE:’I was born and brought up in London but the Home Office wouldn’t give me a passport because they didn’t believe I was British’
(Image: Ene Okpe Igiehon)
The fee to register Ene’s two children as British is over £1,000 each while an additional processing fee costs £416 for each child. The total amount of money Ene needs to raise is £5,500, which covers her twin’s British citizen applications, her own temporary visa extension as well as NHIS applications and her solicitor’s legal fees.
Under law, as soon as a child reaches the age of 10, they must register as a British citizen under section 1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Though the Court of Appeal recently found the Home Office had failed to assess the best interests of children when setting the fees. This was upheld in 2021 by the Supreme Court as the department’s fundamental power can essentially charge what it deems fit.
Ene’s eldest child, who is now 14, successfully obtained British citizenship when he was aged 11, now Ene must do the same for her twins and extend her temporary visa, which she has to do every 30 months. In 30 months time, Ene would have reached her 20 Year Long Residency which will allow for her to apply for indefinite leave to remain, she will eventually become a British citizen but will have to cough up even more money when the time comes for her own naturalisation application.
She has found it difficult to find the finances in time on her dinner lady wage and as a single mother, while a recent court case involving an ex-partner used up any remaining money she did have. She first came to the UK for a better life but has never been able to visit her family back in Nigeria as she could not afford it.
Ene added: “I raised all three children on my own. Not just because they are my children, but they are such wonderful children. They are so positive, they are children who are determined to learn and we have the support of the lovely community and the parents and the teachers at their schools – they’ve always been there when things go wrong for me.”
Nana, a close friend of Ene’s, created a fundraiser last month to help support her friend’s plight. She told MyLondon: “Over the years I’ve seen (Ene) struggle to bring the kids up on her own but she always has a smile on her face and never reveals the problems she is going through, she does her utmost best and is a loving and caring person.
“She’s not just sitting at home claiming benefits, which is a mindset a lot of society nowadays plays towards. She’s a single mum doing this all on her own which is difficult at most times but even more so because of all the austerity – and the twins were born here.”
So far Ene has raised £1,545 but still needs £3,955 by July 7. If she cannot pay £5,500 in time, she could lose her job and right to live in the UK. “If I don’t make the application and don’t have the money, it’s not good for me – I want to have the freedom to come into work and to look after my kids,” Ene added.
A colleague of Ene’s told MyLondon she is a testament to the school. She added: “I’ve known Ene for seven years, she works so hard in our kitchens. We’ve really gotten to know her over the seven years very well. “It’s so difficult to navigate through the system, especially with the Home Office – if you want to get your case as solid as you can you have to rely on the support of a solicitor, it’s all very costly.”
She continued: “This is apparently Refugee Week, we need people in this country, we need everyone to come in and work, everyone pays towards the system. We are all here for the same reason – to have a family, to raise children and to work. I just don’t understand people who are doing the best they can for their community and are working all day are still being penalised.”
You can find Ene’s fundraiser here.
The Home Office has been contacted by MyLondon for comment.
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