‘She was told she would be deported back to Jamaica…which she left 50 years ago’
Under the 1971 Immigration Act all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain – but the right to free movement between Commonwealth nations was ended from that date onwards.
The injustices are arising because the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for the individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally.
Oxford University’s Migration Observatory estimates there are 50,000 people resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971. People born in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are likely to be the most affected of those from Commonwealth nations as they were more likely to arrive on parents’ passports without their own ID documents. Many never applied for a passport in their own name or thought it necessary to formalise their immigration status as they always believed themselves to be British.
By this week Patrick Vernon’s petition had garnered more than 160,000 signatures. Ordinarily, reaching 100,000 means it can be considered for debate in the Commons.
Earlier this year, Labour Party peer Lord Richard Faulkner raised the case of a former cook at the House of Commons, Paulette Wilson, who had come to Britain from Jamaica in 1968.
“(She) had never applied for a passport because she assumed she would not need one if she did not intend to travel abroad,” he told the House of Lords. “One day, she got a letter from the Home Office telling her to register each month at the Solihull Immigration Centre.
“While she was there on a visit, officials declared that she was an illegal immigrant, had her carted off to the appalling Yarl’s Wood immigration removal complex and told her that she would be deported – presumably back to Jamaica, which she had not visited since she left as a child almost 50 years before,” he said.
She was saved from deportation by the intervention of her MP, Emma Reynolds, and the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton and has now been given leave to remain, said Lord Faulkner, “although she has lost benefits for the past two years, as well as her flat, and has to rely on financial support from her daughter”.
Lord Faulkner said there were “many others” like Mrs Wilson. He said it is a direct consequence of measures taken by the then Home Secretary in 2013, Theresa May, to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants but was now being implemented by overzealous officials.
A statement from the Home Office said: “We value the contribution made by former Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK.
“We want to assure individuals who have resided in the UK for an extended period but feel they may not have the correct documentation confirming their status that there are existing solutions available.
“They should take legal advice and submit the appropriate application with correct evidence so we can progress the case.
“We have no intention of making people leave who have the right to remain here.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said there are cases of Australian, Canadian and South African, Indian and Pakistan-born citizens facing the same problem and called for Commonwealth citizens who arrived before 1971 to be given the same status as EU citizens living in the UK.
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