The treatment of Windrush-era individuals continues to dominate the news. Decades after their arrival in the UK, many of these Commonwealth-born, long-term UK residents are now struggling to document their legal right to be here. It’s estimated that around 50,000 people never formalised their residency status and are currently at risk of deportation because they cannot prove this status.
How can this have happened?
Many of the post-World War II arrivals from the Caribbean countries came to the UK as children. They travelled on the passports of their parents or, in some cases, elder siblings. Working under an assumption that they were already British – because their countries of origin were not, at the time, independent of the UK – they never applied for naturalisation. Furthermore, many of them never subsequently applied for UK passports. To compound matters, the Home Office neglected to keep records of anyone entering the country and being granted leave to remain – a right automatically conferred on anyone who has lived continuously in the UK since 1 January 1973.
Why has this lack of documentation caused problems?
The tightening to immigration rules over the past few years means that affected individuals are finding it difficult to access healthcare, rent properties, claim benefits or take up work unless they can prove their right to be in the UK. As well as suffering as a consequence of being unable to find accommodation or work, some have had vital healthcare or benefits removed from them. Others have been detained in immigration centres and threatened with deportation.
What are the rules around detention in immigration centres?
People can be held in any one of the UK’s nine immigration centres if their application to be in the country is either being processed or has been refused. A small proportion are held indefinitely because their countries of origin are deemed too dangerous to return them to or because that country will no longer accept them. There is no time limit on how long someone can be detained. Anyone detained in an immigration centre has the right to apply for bail. If this is granted, they may then live outside the immigration centre (usually at a designated address) while their case is resolved.
Is the government trying to solve the problem?
The Home Secretary has announced the creation of a new Home Office team, focused on assisting Commonwealth-born, long-term UK individuals regularise their immigration status. Application fees are apparently to be waived and cases resolved within a fortnight. However, as the old saying goes: the proof is in the pudding – and this particular pudding is still in the oven. In the meantime, anyone affected by this issue must ensure they take specialist legal advice.
How can we help?
We regularly assist individuals threatened or affected by unlawful detention. If you are worried that you, or someone you know, faces this risk, contact us today on 0161 975 1900 for a confidential discussion.