Nearly 1.4 million people in the UK cannot access public funds during the coronavirus pandemic because of their immigration status, a charity estimates.
Some 1,376,158 people have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) because their immigration status is not finalised, suggests research by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
This means they cannot access most benefits, such as Universal Credit, child benefit, housing benefit, and a range of allowances and tax credits.
Citizens Advice, which shared the research, said the number of people seeking help about this and non-EU migrants’ access to benefits during the pandemic has more than doubled compared with last year.
Since 11 March, it has been supporting someone regarding these concerns every 20 minutes on average.
People of colour are disproportionately affected by NRPF, with 82% of those helped by the charity in the last year being from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
The charity says the rules mean families are risking their health to work and some may be split up in future.
Some have faced the “impossible choice” between returning to work while ill or shielding so they can continue to earn, and staying at home, as per public health guidance, but losing their income.
Migrants from non-European Economic Area countries are disproportionately likely to work in frontline roles, including in healthcare, care work and security jobs, it added.
Briana, a Jamaican national with NRPF who usually works in a care home, is shielding due to heart and respiratory problems, Citizens Advice said.
While she is receiving statutory sick pay, she cannot afford to pay her rent or bills and feels forced to return to work because she is so worried about rent arrears and eviction.
Chief executive Dame Gillian Guy said that despite measures put in place by the government, the charity is seeing “significant increases” in people seeking help.
The government has made people with NRPF eligible for the Job Retention Scheme and provided emergency funding to councils.
But the charity said people are racking up “significant levels of debt” in order to avoid jeopardising their immigration status by attempting to claim benefits.