Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean refugee nurse ‘fighting for full citizenship in Birmingham half my life’

‘Extortionate’ visa fees are forcing migrants to choose between buying food or paying to remain in the country, a charity has warned. Migrants in the West Midlands say they’ve been forced into ‘destitution’ after the government increased the costs of some visas by between 15-20%.

 

On October 31, the charity Migrant Voice launched its national Day of Action to raise awareness of the harm rising visa fees and the international health surcharge were having on vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers. The group staged a protest in Centenary Square calling on the government to reduce fees in line with visa processing costs.

 

Migrants at the Halloween-themed rally told BirminghamLive that increased visa costs had left them in ‘limbo’ and that they were ‘relying on foodbanks’ to get by. Migrant Voice said some families were being plunged into thousands of pounds of debt just to ensure they and their children could stay in the UK.

 

Farisai Dzemwa, 51, from Wolverhampton, was one of the speakers at yesterday’s rally. The working nurse fled Zimbabwe in 2001 and was granted refugee status in the UK. She told how rising visa fees had left her ‘crying behind closed doors.’

 

“I feel invisible,” she said. “I’ve been fighting for full citizenship in this country for half my life – I don’t know who I am anymore.

 

“I’m working long hours to rent, pay my tax and look after my son – every penny I save I put towards trying to afford a visa. I’m already not putting my heating on which is impacting my health.

 

“I used to think I was very strong, but I don’t feel like I am anymore. There are so many other people like me crying behind closed doors.”

 

Farisai Dzemwa said she had stopped heating her home to save money for her visa.

Farisai Dzemwa said she had stopped heating her home to save money for her visa. (Image: Migrant Voice)

 

Last month, the government increased the cost of most UK visa fees, in some cases by as much as 35%, meaning the total cost of a visa renewal, per person, has jumped from £2,608 to at least £3,635. The government also announced that the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) – that entitles those applying for a visa to use the NHS – will rise by 66% to £1,035 a year by next year.

 

“I’m a nurse,” Farasai said. “How can I be delivering a service that everyone gets for free, and then when I need the same service I have to pay? It’s not fair.”

 

Anastasia Chokuwamba, originally from Zimbabwe, attended the rally from Coventry.

Anastasia Chokuwamba, originally from Zimbabwe, attended the rally from Coventry.

 

Anastasia Chokuwamba, 50, from Coventry also spoke at the protest. She told how she had been left in ‘limbo’ by rising visa costs, and that she was considering taking out a loan to pay for her full citizenship.

 

“I’ve been in limbo for years,” she said. “By the time I’ve paid all my bills, there’s nothing left – £2,600 for a visa is a lot of money to raise.

 

“I’m going to the foodbank for food, where is this money supposed to come from? You can never relax, getting citizenship in this country is an endless struggle – I fought for my asylum status, then for leave to remain, now for a visa. I try to be content with what I have because that’s all I can do.”

 

Similar rallies took place across the country.

Similar rallies took place across the country. (Image: Migrant Voice)

 

Similar rallies took place across the country yesterday as Migrant Voice called on the government to reduce visa fees and restrict the duration of routes to permanent settlement from 10 to five years. Nazek Ramadan, Director of Migrant Voice, said: “The cost of visa fees, particularly during a cost of living crisis, is devastating for many migrants.

 

“One unexpected bill can leave someone in a precarious position. Imagine living with the fear that getting your car repaired could lead you to losing your house or your job. That is the reality many migrants face if they cannot afford to pay the thousands upon thousands of pounds they have to live in the UK.

 

“Fees here are already among the highest in the world, yet this government continues to increase them, as if migrants are their own magic money tree. People cannot continue to be forced into poverty like this.” Birmingham Mail

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