An Italian grandmother who missed a Home Office email that landed in her junk folder and was ordered to leave Britain after 42 years has at last been told she can stay.
Leonarda Zarcone, 74, was told she missed the deadline to apply for settled status despite living and working in the UK since 1981.
The Home Office emailed her demanding more evidence of her UK residency but it was sent to her junk folder which she never checked.
Last month she received a letter from the Home Office ordering her to leave the UK or face prosecution.
Her family pleaded with the Home Office to reconsider, and after weeks of uncertainty, she was finally granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Her son David Brunetto, 51, said: ‘We are relieved that common sense has finally prevailed but it should never have got to this point.
Leonarda Zarcone, 74, and her husband Marcel Brunetto moved to the UK in 1981 and settled in Leicester
Pictured: The 28-day visitor stamp Leonarda Zarcone was given at East Midlands airport which allowed her to enter the country
‘My mum has had so many sleepless nights about being arrested because technically she was an illegal immigrant.
‘It shows just how precarious the system is if you can be ordered to leave the country on the basis of an email being sent to a junk folder.
‘I really hope the Home Office will learn lessons from this. The way my mum was treated was just not right.’
Ms Zarcone was born in Italy and moved to the UK as a child before living in France where she was granted French citizenship.
She and her husband Marcel Brunetto, 77, moved to the UK in 1981 and settled in Leicester where they ran a traditional fish and chip shop and raised three children.
After Britain left the EU in 2020 following the 2016 Brexit referendum, she and her family applied for settled status to continue living in the country. The settled status scheme grants EU nationals and their families who have spent five years in the UK the same rights as British citizens.
Leonarda Zarcone, 74, was born in Italy and moved to the UK as a child before living in France where she was given French citizenship
Her family qualified but the Home Office emailed Ms Zarcone demanding she provided more financial information.
But she never read the email after it landed in her spam inbox and Ms Zarcone missed the deadline.
David, who runs a business and has two children, said: ‘On the bottom of the application form there are two options on how the Home Office can contact you. One is by phone and the other is email. She had never used an email before and she is cautious about talking to people on the phone in case she’s being scammed.
‘If there had been an option for a letter then my mum would have opted for that and this would never have happened.
Ms Zarcone, who has three grown-up children and four grandchildren, said: ‘When I opened the letter it was the shock of my life.
‘All my family and my roots are here. It was really frightening. I had nowhere to go. My mum and dad moved to England and lived her their whole lives. After they died we buried them here. I moved to this country 42 years ago with my husband. We raised our three children here and ran a business together here. I have paid National Insurance, taxes and lived an honest life.
After Britain officially left the EU in 2020 following Brexit , Ms Zarcone and her family applied for settled status
‘My family have made their lives here and my youngest daughter was born in the UK. We even support Leicester City football team, this is our home.’
David submitted EU settlement claims for his parents along with his own online application.
Ms Zarcone found out her application had failed when an immigration officer stopped her when she returned from a family wedding in France in September.
She said: ‘I was an illegal immigrant and all because of an email which was sent to my junk folder. I am not great with computers. It made me cry to think I could be sent away from this country and my family because of this.’
Ms Zarcone and her husband Marcel, who have always lived in Leicester, retired seven years ago. The couple’s son David, who lives in the city, said: ‘My mum’s records prove that she has been living here for decades.
‘She’s received a state pension for seven years so clearly she’s lived here continually and she’s paid into the system. She’s paid her taxes.
Ms Zarcone’s family were all granted settled status but the Home Office emailed her demanding more information for her application
‘She’s paying council tax. There’s lots of proof.’
The Home Office emailed Mr Brunetto on Friday confirming his mother had been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain. The letter said: ‘I am pleased to inform you that your application under the EU Settlement Scheme has been successful.’
A spokesperson said: ‘All EU Settlement Scheme applications are carefully considered on their individual merits, on the basis of the evidence provided and in accordance with the immigration rules.
‘A wide range of support remains available for applicants, including vulnerable people.
‘This includes support through a Grant Funded Network of third party organisations dedicated to assisting vulnerable people with their applications.’