A personal story of immigration
Amber Rudd resigned this weekend after the attempts to cover the trail of lies and abuses regarding years of mistreatment of the Windrush generation children came to light.
I take the 20 minutes I promised my friends to dedicate every week to write for our little magazine aptly called The Shitty First Draft to recall two categories of migration I was part of and on which this government rescinded its promises and abused the asymmetry of power: The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme visa holders and the citizens of EU A2 countries which lost their residence years in UK from pre-EU accession time.
I do this in order to highlight that the way Home Office acts now is not new but rather systematic. More precisely, reneging on the rights already given through various settlement, visa frameworks is common. In the case of Windrush generation, those arriving before the Immigration Act (1973) were British citizens at their arrival in UK based on 1948 Citizenship Act. The categories I mention in this post are migrants, not UK citizens, however the commonality resides in the Home Office attempt to take away rights of people it accepted legally in UK at some point by retrospectively changing the rules and hoping that no one will notice.
My son tells me that I should write a book about our immigration story. He is now a young man but he was only five and holding my hand when Home Office informed me that after graduating from London Business School, one of the top 3 business schools in the world, Home Office declined our visa application and conveniently, lost our file. They declined my visa because they did not believe I graduated from such a school despite evidence being submitted. They just did not believe it and this was enough. Our file contained original documents hard to replace: birth certificates, passports, University diplomas, etc. I don’t know what my son has seen or experienced then looking at his mum crumbling. It was enough though for him to remember that moment to this day.
Move forward a few years and Home Office changes the rules for permanent residence. Our “Highly Skilled Migrant” visa which promised permanent residence at the end of it, does not deliver. I am told I cannot extend it because in the meantime Romania entered the EU and as an EU citizen I cannot be a visa holder. What is the procedure from here onwards, I ask. You have to start counting your residence years again from the beginning. I am in disbelief at Home Office’s stance. At this point I lived in UK for six years. I contact a lawyer. She tells me that UK is the only EU country which does not allow visa holding citizens of newly accepted countries in EU to merge their residence pre-EU with post-EU. How is this our fault though? What can be done? The lawyer tells me that EU puts pressure on Home Office on this but slim chances that they will comply. We can sue the Home Office and there are strong chances to win however it will be a long and costly process. Can you gather a community of those affected? We believe that there are probably 3000 people in your situation, I am told.
I don’t want to waste my time fighting Home Office and I resign myself to starting the residence process again from the beginning.
Some years later, a non-profit organisation called HSMPForum, wins the judicial review against Home Office regarding the unilateral and retrospective change of rules for the Highly Skilled Migrants. It seems that a mainly Indian community represented by HSMPForum managed to put together a law suit against Home Office as my lawyer suggested me regarding the EU citizens mistreatment. Through their win I received the permanent residence retroactively. Thank you HSMPForum! Home Office did not inform those affected. You could benefit of this only if you followed this law suit which lasted years.
As I write this, a recent podcast I took part in comes to mind. Liz Lumley asked me when I realised I am discriminated professionally as a woman. I mumbled about the first memory being me, a project manager with a technology company, being the one to push the cart with coffee and sandwiches in a room full of men who came to see the results of the project I led. Today the word in.ter.sec.tio.na.li.ty comes to mind. The discrimination on “immigration status” is so blatant and we are so used to it that somehow, I did not register anything below this level as important. It is not lost on me that out of one hundred people applying with the same documentation, for the same type of visa, I was the only one not “believed”.
Luckily, I limit myself to 20mins to write on this topic.
The point is immigration generally happens in a hostile environment and Home Office regularly rescinds on its promises knowing that individuals will rarely be able bring together a community of those affected and raise enough money to fight for their rights.