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'Check your legal status', warns Butler amid Windrush crisis

PLEA: Dawn Butler MP

RECENTLY I was contacted by a constituent who had just visited the country of her
birth to see her family.

The woman, a Commonwealth citizen in her 60s, attempted to board a flight to return home but she was stopped by security at the airport.

To her surprise, despite the fact she had been living in the UK for many decades, she was told that she did not have the correct paperwork in order to travel home to London.

I soon found out that the lady in question had the right to abode in the UK. However, this means that she needs to provide evidence of her immigration status when travelling.

Just like those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, it means she can live, work, leave or enter the UK without restriction provided she has the necessary documentation upon return.

But what people often do not realise is that when their passport expires, the visa inside that passport is no longer valid. Sadly, this often only becomes apparent after leaving the UK and trying to return.

They must then go through a sometimes difficult and lengthy process to prove their immigration status by applying for a certificate of their right to abode or the new biometric residency permit.

FEAR

My constituent had no choice but to stay outside the UK longer than planned. This understandably caused great upset to her and her family. She missed time off work, leaving her fearing for her job, and had the additional worry of only having a limited amount of medication for a health condition.

Eventually the visa was granted but at a considerable cost. The application process can take over six months to process unless you pay an additional fee for the premium service at a significantly higher rate, which can run into the thousands.

There is a big problem facing Commonwealth citizens and it is not right that people who have lived here, sometimes for over 60 years, are told they are an illegal immigrant.

I had one case where a constituent was told that he would not be entitled to his pension, even though he had legally worked for a company for over 30 years! I was also shocked to read recently about the grandmother originally from Jamaica who was threatened with deportation, despite living in the UK for almost 50 years. This type of treatment is immoral and part of a worrying trend.

As MP for Brent Central, the most diverse constituency in the country, these stories and others like them are becoming all too familiar for me. Many constituents have come to me requesting I make representations on their behalf and some often require urgent, last-minute interventions.

And as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Jamaica in Westminster, I have come across many cases of Jamaican and other nationals who are of retirement age and have lived in the UK for years, some of whom never even visited their country of birth, but end up being threatened with deportation.

Some even lose their jobs as employers fear punishment for employing an “illegal immigrant”, or they become homeless as they are unable to provide the necessary documentation.

RESPONSIBILITY

The Government must take responsibility for this growing problem. While we as individuals need to be proactive, there also needs to be greater understanding and empathy about the situation people find themselves in, and a greater effort to raise awareness of the documents required to prove your immigration status.

I encourage everyone to check their status. I also call on relatives to check the
status of parents, friends and family. Check the date on your passport containing your visa has not expired or ensure that you hold a valid document which displays your immigration status.

It is too important to leave to chance.

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