migrantvoice
Speaking for Ourselves

"It has been such a tumultuous journey": Life on the 10-year route to settlement

"It has been such a tumultuous journey": Life on the 10-year route to settlement

Dawn Limbu

 Migrant Voice - "It has been such a tumultuous journey": Life on the 10-year route to settlement

This article is part of our #10x10 series to mark ten years since the introduction of the 10-year route to settlement.

It places migrants in a decade-long limbo, while costing them over £10,000 per person.

In this series, migrants share their thoughts on the 10-year route and why things must change.

We're campagning for a cap of max five years on routes to settlement.


We came to the UK on my sixth birthday. It was on 13 June 2001 that we flew from South Africa to the UK. I remember feeling very restless and confused on the plane. Before we left for the UK, my mother had disappeared for what had felt like an eternity while she went to England to get things sorted for us to move across the world.

I don't remember much about arriving at Heathrow airport and I don't remember the journey from the airport to Southampton, which is where we ended up settling down. All I really remember from that time was being confused as to why the sky was still bright at 9pm at night, as it had been winter when we left South Africa. Despite the long days, I struggled to get used to the constant grey sky. At home, the sky was always bright blue and seemed limitless. Here, it seemed claustrophobic.

I still had no idea why we had come to the UK. But I was excited to go to school because I had never been before. My mum chose to home-school me when we were in South Africa, and I had always wished that I could go to school and run around on the playground as I had seen on TV.

But starting school was hard. I wasn't used to talking to kids and as one of the only black kids in the school, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was shy, nervous and didn't know how to play with the other children. I had never heard of the games that they were playing and although English was my first language, I had no idea what they were talking about. I eventually began to make a few good friends - some of who I still have to this very day. Despite a difficult start at primary school, my confidence slowly grew over the years and by secondary school, I was one of the chattiest and most sociable people in my class.

I always had big dreams. Bold dreams that may have seemed unattainable to most, but why not aim high? Coming from a migrant family means there is always pressure to achieve, so you don't have to experience the same struggle as your parents did. My mother had wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. But I wanted to be an artist.

After my A-Levels, I went on to do an art foundation diploma with the intent of studying at the University of the Arts London. I wanted to be a professional make-up artist working on film and television sets. I dreamt of working on Hollywood films and making up the stars. I told everyone who would listen about how I was going to go to UAL and how you would one day see my name on film credits. However, it was only when I applied for my student finance that I realised I had a massive problem. I wasn't a British citizen.

Growing up, I had always been aware of the presence of the Home Office. I lived in fear thinking that one day the Home Office would knock on our door and steal us away. My mother always told us to never answer the door for anyone. I also knew that sometimes, she had to go and sign on with the police. But this was just in our early days living here. By the time I got to my teens, I had assumed that things were settled as I had been through my education and was allowed to work. At college, no one had flagged to me that I may not be classed as a home student at university. I was an international student.

Despite my mother's dismay at my artistic choices, she wanted me to go to university and get my degree. She told me not to worry about the fees and sent me off to London. I couldn't believe it! My dream had come true.

But things soon became much too difficult for me. I still wasn't really sure why I had to pay £15,000 fees, and not having a maintenance loan meant I had to work over 30 hours a week to afford to live in London and pay for all the materials on my course. I was exhausted and broke and my mental health was beginning to suffer.

I took the help of a financial advisor at UAL who promised she would help me figure out why I couldn't get student finance like my peers. After spending some time looking into my case, she worked out my issue. Despite having lived in the country for 13 years at the time, I wasn't a British citizen. I was on a ten-year route to settlement, which started around 2012. I remembered how my mother had taken me to get my passport photos taken and how I had ended up with a pink card (a biometric residence permit). Aaah, so that's what that was.

Luckily for me (I guess), new legislation had just been passed meaning that people who could prove that they were ordinarily resident in the UK for more than half their life could access student finance. But that meant I had to start again, from year 1.
My brain was a mess. It was so difficult to comprehend all of the information. I felt so bogged down by all of this that I ended up dropping out of university anyway. I was really unhappy and I was burnt out from almost working full time while being in full-time education. My grades were suffering anyway, so what was the point? I couldn't focus in class, I couldn't focus on my work. The art that I was creating was abysmal. I felt like a total failure.

At the time, it felt like my whole world had crashed before me and that I would end up working menial jobs that I disliked forever. But as my mental health stabilised, I found newfound freedom. I didn't need to live in London anymore. In 2017 I moved to Bristol, and a year later enrolled on a journalism course at the University of the West of England. I had a fresh start with access to student finance.

It is now 2022 and I am incredibly proud to say that I have managed to achieve a first-class bachelor's degree. I am now about to finish my masters in journalism. What's more, I only have one more year left of my ten-year route and then I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. It has been such a tumultuous journey. Having to find the money to extend my visa every couple of years has been incredibly challenging, especially during Covid. Every couple of years I have been stressed beyond belief as I have had to gather the funds to pay for these extortionate Home Office fees. I would like to thank all the members of the Facebook group U.K Mutual Aid for helping me to fundraise for my last visa in 2020 and all the friends and family who have supported me also. I would also like to thank Coram for helping me to understand my immigration status when no one else could explain this to me and for supporting me with my visa applications.

No one should have to wait ten years for the certainty that their livelihood is safe here in the U.K. Especially not migrant children like me, who had no say in coming here at all. Although we are grateful to be here, we had absolutely no choice in the matter. To string a child along while they go through the schooling system, only to stop them in their tracks and make them worry about their future when they get to the university level is just cruel.

Throughout my life, I have suffered with anxiety and fear over my immigration status. Living life comfortably has always felt like a distant dream, but now it's right around the corner for me. I can't wait to finally feel free.

Photo credit: Fenton Fleming

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