It was LAG that first highlighted the plight of Commonwealth citizens unable to prove their immigration status after emigrating to the UK as children.
We published Chasing status: if not British, then what am I?
, written by the journalist and former Legal Action
editor, Fiona Bawdon, four years ago. The recent political row over the plight of the so-called Windrush generation has sparked renewed interest in the report.
Chasing status anticipated the problems that the then home secretary Theresa May’s policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants would cause many people from Commonwealth countries who had a right to live in the UK but would have difficulty proving it. In the report, solicitor Roopa Tanna explained that many of her clients from former British colonies in the Caribbean had an automatic right to remain in the UK because of the legislation in force at the time. She also observed that migrants from other Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh would be in the same position, and that many would assume that their right to remain in the UK could not be in doubt.
Another immigration lawyer interviewed for the report, Gwen Morris, described her clients caught by legislation intended to crack down on illegal immigrants as ‘surprised Brits’, who cannot ‘believe their nationality, much less their lawful presence, is being questioned’ (page 4).
Aubrey’s case was one of several detailed in the report (the names of all of those featured in the case studies were changed). Aubrey had never returned to Jamaica since arriving in the UK aged 12 to join his parents. At the time the report was written, he was 53, and had always described himself as Black British on official forms. He hit problems when his employer asked him to prove his immigration status: he’d lost his original Jamaican passport with a stamp to show he had leave to remain in the UK and so he was not able to do so, despite having worked all his life and raised a family here. Aubrey was waiting for the Home Office to respond to the evidence he had assembled to prove he’d been continuously in the UK when Chasing status was published.
The work of Amelia Gentleman at the Guardian in continuing to highlight the stories of people like Aubrey played a part in reigniting media interest in the plight of those from former British colonies who’d settled in the UK. The issue was taken up by the Commonwealth heads of state at their recent conference in London and this was the crucial factor in raising its political profile. It has led to the government taking up one of the main suggestions in our report: to establish a specialist unit at the Home Office to deal with the cases of Commonwealth citizens legally settled in the UK but unable to prove their status.
It is still unclear how many Commonwealth citizens in the UK fall within the category of being entitled to indefinite leave to remain because they settled here before 1 January 1973 (the date on which the Immigration Act 1971 came into force). LAG, along with many other organisations concerned with access to justice, believes the government should reinstate entitlement to immigration advice under the legal aid scheme so that these people can get the help they need in what can be complex cases. We also support the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) in its campaign for an independent review of the ‘hostile environment’ policy1ILPA briefing for the debate on the petition ‘Amnesty for anyone that was a migrant and arrived in Britain between 1948 to 1971’: Westminster Hall, 4.30 pm, 30 April 2018, page 4.
as the widespread injustice this has caused to many people legally resident in the UK should not be allowed to continue.