A new report, Chasing Status
, published by LAG tells the hidden stories of long-standing UK migrants, who now discover they have irregular immigration status, because of lost passports or poor government record-keeping. The six oldest interviewees in Chasing Status
had lived in the UK for a total of 260 years; their ages ranged from 53–60. They arrived legally from Commonwealth countries as children; all have been educated and raised families here; all have national insurance numbers and pay taxes. Until recent legislative changes, they had been able to work and claim benefits without difficulty. Interviewees in the study are described as ‘surprised Brits’, because of their shock at discovering they could not prove their lawful right to be in the country, despite having lived here for many decades and having long considered themselves British. Legal aid has been removed for most immigration cases, meaning those with status problems can no longer get access to expert advice to resolve their situation.
LAG believes urgent reform is needed to ease the plight of these 'surprised Brits', who are the unintended victims of laws aimed at deterring illegal entrants. After living in the UK most of their lives, working and paying taxes like everybody else, many are at risk of destitution, just as they are approaching retirement age. One of the ten case studies in the report is that of Anne-Marie. She is 56-years-old and is unable to read or write because of learning difficulties. She has been without benefits and reliant on handouts from her 83-year-old mother for around eight years. She arrived in the UK in 1974 from Jamaica. When her original passport with its immigration stamp was destroyed in a house fire, the UK Border Agency claimed to have no record of her. Anne-Marie said she had been treated like a criminal: ‘You know when you are in a courthouse, and you’re waiting for the judge to say whether you are guilty or not guilty? That’s the way I feel now.’
The Chasing Status
interviewees are caught by legislative changes introduced by the coalition government, and successive governments before them, which are intended to discourage illegal entrants by denying them access to employment, welfare benefits, housing and other services. The interviewees’ problems arose for a number of reasons. Some, like Anne-Marie, had lost their original passports and could not prove their status because the much-criticised UK Border Agency (now replaced by UK Visas and Immigration) claimed to have no record of them. Others had failed to take steps to regularise their status years earlier, because, as long-term residents of the UK, they didn’t realise that changes in immigration legislation applied to them. Chasing Status
proposes a number of reforms, including the creation of a specialist case unit at the Home Office to deal with these cases and providing legal aid under the ‘exceptional funding’ scheme to enable applicants to access legal advice.