Monday 16th April 2018
All faiths, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United
The children of Windrush: ‘I’m here legally, but they’re asking me to prove I’m British’
Eight people tell of the harrowing experience of having to prove their status despite having been in the UK legally for half a century
Mon 16 Apr 2018 13.29 BST
A growing number of people who were born in the Caribbean and came to the UK as children during the 1950s and 60s have been experiencing severe problems with their immigration status because they have never formally naturalised or applied for a British passport. They are the children of the Windrush generation, who were invited to move to the UK by the British government to help with postwar rebuilding. All are here legally, but with the introduction of tighter immigration rules, they are being asked to prove their status, despite having lived in the UK for about 50 years. For some, the consequences have been catastrophic. Here are some of the people who have told their stories to the Guardian in recent months.
Paulette Wilson moved to the UK when she was 10. The 61–year–old moved to the UK in 1968 when she was 10 and has never left. Because she had never applied for a British passport and had no papers proving she had a right to be in the UK, she was classified as an illegal immigrant. Last October, she was sent to the immigration removal centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedford for a week, and then taken to Heathrow before deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited for 50 years and where she has no surviving relatives. The former cook, who used to serve food to MPs in the House of Commons and has 34 years of national insurance contributions, was horrified at the prospect of being separated from her daughter and granddaughter. A last–minute intervention from her MP and a local charity prevented her removal. After Guardian publicity she has since been given a biometric card, proving she is in the UK legally, but she will have to reapply in 2024 and is already worried about the process. She has had no apology from the Home Office.
Anthony Bryan moved to the UK when he was eight. The 60–year–old has spent a total of three weeks in immigration removal centres over the past two years, despite having lived in the UK for more than half a century. He worked as a painter and decorator and paid taxes for more than 40 years, and helped to bring up his children and grandchildren in London. He lost his job when Capita wrote to him informing him he had no right to be in the UK, adding that his employer could face a £10,000 fine if it continued to employ him as an “illegal worker”. Last November, police and immigration officials arrived early on a Sunday morning at his home with a battering ram; a plane ticket was booked to take him to Jamaica, the country he left when he was eight and to which he has not returned in the past 52 years. He travelled to the UK on his older brother’s passport in 1965, and had no documents of his own to prove status, so struggled to convince officials he was here legally. After coverage of his plight in the Guardian, officials have acknowledged he is here legally, but he is still waiting to be issued with a biometric card. He has spent more than £3,000 on legal bills and application fees. He has had no apology from the Home Office.
Renford McIntyre moved to the UK when he was 14. The 64–year–old is homeless and sleeping on a sofa in an industrial unit in Dudley. He has lived in the UK for almost 50 years since arriving from Jamaica in 1968 at 14, to join his mother who had moved here to work as a nurse. He has worked and paid taxes here for 48 years, as an NHS driver and a delivery man, but in 2014 a request for updated paperwork from his employers revealed he did not have documents showing he had a right to be in the UK. He was sacked; the local council told him he was not eligible for housing support or any benefits, so he became homeless. He gathered together paperwork showing 35 years of national insurance contributions but the Home Office returned the application requesting further information. “I can’t tell you how angry and bitter it makes me feel. I’ve worked hard all my life, I’ve paid into the system. I’ve sent them details of my NHS pension, and HMRC records going back 40 years. They’ve got all my documents. What more do they want?” he said. “How do they expect me to live? How am I expected to eat or dress myself?”
Michael Braithwaite moved to the UK when was nine. The 66–year–old lost the job he loved as a special needs teaching assistant last year after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant, despite the fact that he had lived in the UK for 56 years. He arrived from Barbados with his parents in 1961, aged nine, and has lived here continuously ever since; he assumed he was British. He had been in his primary school job for 15 years when a routine check on his papers revealed that he did not have an up–to–date identity document. He was asked to submit documentary proof that he had the right to live in the UK. He had never applied for a passport and was unable to prove he was here legitimately. He was devastated to lose his job. Shortly after publicity about the case last week, the Home Office emailed his lawyer to say he had been granted a biometric card.
Hubert Howard has been in the UK since he was three. The 61–year–old arrived with his mother in the UK aged three from Jamaica and has never lived anywhere else. Because he has insufficient paperwork proving he had a right to be in the UK, he was told he was an illegal immigrant with no right to live here. He lost job with the Peabody Trust, despite the fact that he was a highly regarded employee who had worked for the housing organisation for more than a decade. His problems first emerged when he wanted urgently to visit his mother in Jamaica when she became ill. He was unable to get a British passport and his mother died without him seeing her. Unable to work, he was also told he was not entitled to benefits because he had no immigration status here. “They messed up my life,” he said. “I had a steady job. It broke my heart losing it. When my mum passed away, I wasn’t there, and I still haven’t been at her graveside.”
Albert Thompson, the 63–year–old arrived in London from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, to join his mother who was working here as a nurse. Albert Thompson, not his real name, has been here 44 years, working and paying taxes as a mechanic, until he became ill with cancer and had to stop work. Official suspicion about his immigration status led to him being evicted last summer, and he was homeless for three weeks, before a charity housed him. When he arrived for his first radiotherapy session last November he was told that unless he could prove he was eligible for free NHS treatment he would have to pay £54,000 for the care. He is unable to pay and is still not receiving prostate cancer treatment, and is profoundly worried about his health. “I’m very angry with the government. I’m here legally, but they’re asking me to prove I’m British,” he said. He is also dismayed by his treatment at the hands of the NHS. “It feels like they are leaving me to die.”
Sarah O’Connor moved to the UK at age of six. The 57–year–old moved to Britain from Jamaica 51 years ago when she was six, and has lived here ever since. She was challenged by the benefits agency to prove she was here legally last summer, after losing the job in the computer shop where she had worked for 16 years. Although she has successfully interviewed for several new jobs, the employers have had to withdraw their offers when they discovered she has no passport. Unable to get work and told she is not eligible for benefits, she had to sell her car and was facing bankruptcy in March. She attended primary and secondary school in the UK, paid taxes, held a driving licence, was married for 17 years to someone British and has four British children, so she was devastated when her immigration status was questioned. After publication of the story last month, the Home Office promised to waive the fees usually charged for a biometric card application.
Elwaldo Romeo moved to the UK at the age of four. The 63–year–old received a letter from the Home Office in February telling him he was in the UK illegally – despite the fact he has been here for 59 years, since moving from Antigua at the age of four, with his mother who came to work here as a nurse. The letter stated: “You have NOT been given leave to enter the United Kingdom within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971” and offered “help and support on returning home voluntarily”. Romeo did not want help returning to a country he has not visited for almost 60 years. He has worked in London for more than 40 years, has children and grandchildren here, and was dismayed to be told he was here illegally. “It scares the living daylights out of you – the threatening language on the letters,” he said. The problem may have been caused by an administrative error on his birth certificate in 1955. After publicity about the case, the Home Office said it was “urgently reviewing” his case. He is still waiting for the problem to be resolved.