A report from London’s Guardian.
The government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy has caused pain and heartache for many long-term UK residents
About 50,000 people who arrived from Caribbean countries after the second world war, at the invitation of the UK government, face eviction, NHS bills and deportation if they have not formalised their residency status or no longer have the documentation to prove it.
The problems have arisen as a result of the government’s “hostile environment policy”, which requires employers, NHS staff, landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Some of the Windrush-generation children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were not formally naturalised and, as adults, never applied for passports. The Home Office destroyed their landing cards, making it almost impossible for many people, including those below, to prove they had the right to be in the UK, and having a serious impact on their lives.
Kenneth Williams, 58
Williams arrived in Britain in 1969 on his sibling’s passport. In 2015 the council he had been working for via an agency refused him direct employment without a passport. He was suspended on full pay but then told to leave. He had a mortgage and could not access benefits owing to his status, so had to rely on family and friends. He was finally given a card confirming he had indefinite leave to remain in August 2017.
Leighton Joseph Robinson, 58
‘I lost my house’
Having gone to Jamaica for his 50th birthday – his first visit since arriving in Britain aged six – Robinson was told at the airport he could not return on his Jamaican passport. He lived in bedsits and hostels for 21 months, until a solicitor resolved the case. On his return in 2011, however, he was told he owed £4,500 for unpaid rent and council tax. Taken to court and evicted, Robinson has been sofa-surfing since.
Junior Green, 61
‘I feel betrayed’
Having lived in the UK since he was five months old, Green visited his dying mother in Jamaica last year but was refused readmission. He was eventually granted a temporary visa but the delay in getting this meant he missed his mother’s funeral back in the UK. His employer kept his job open but, he says, his mother’s death and the surrounding turmoil meant he was too stressed and depressed to resume work.
Judy Griffith, 63
‘I’ve paid taxes here all my life’
Griffith joined her parents in the UK in 1963. After 52 years, a jobcentre employee told her she was an “illegal immigrant” and, because her passport with evidence of leave to remain had been stolen, she was unable to work or travel. Griffith could not visit her sick mother in Barbados in 2016, or attend the funeral. And without work she has got into significant arrears on her flat in London, and narrowly escaped eviction. She recently received papers confirming she has indefinite leave to remain.
Jeffrey Miller, 61
‘It is always at the back of your mind’
Miller came from Grenada in 1966, aged nine, on his brother’s passport. He is aware he needs to naturalise formally but the process is expensive and he is worried he does not have all the documents required. He has decided instead to avoid all contact with the state, despite having the legal right to be in the UK.
Briggs Levi Maynard, 89
‘I was numb … I felt cold’
Maynard arrived in the UK in late 1957 and after a lifetime working, retired on a state pension in 1993. He had travelled on his Barbadian passport many times without problems but in 2017, at Bridgetown airport, he was told he could not return to the UK because he had neither residency nor records of his status. The temporary solution was to buy a return ticket to Barbados. Now he is trying to apply for citizenship; something he never thought would be necessary.
Winston Jones, 62
‘I thought I would die’
Jones (not his real name) arrived in London in 1972, aged 16. More than 40 years later, he was admitted to hospital with a brain aneurysm, where staff told him he may have to cover the £5,000 bill. While there, he lost his home because of his “illegal” residency status and he was ineligible for a bed in a state-funded homeless hostel so he was discharged to the streets. Eventually a bed was found for him, and he spent years trying to prove his residency, until in January 2018 the Home Office confirmed he had indefinite leave to remain.
Dexter Bristol, 57
‘He died being denied an immigration status which was rightfully his’
Bristol moved from Grenada to the UK in 1968, aged eight, to join his mother who was working as an NHS nurse, and he spent the rest of his life in the UK. He was sacked from his cleaning job last year because he had no passport, was denied benefits and became depressed. Bristol died while still trying to prove he was in the country legally.
Paulette Wilson, 61
‘I felt like I didn’t exist’
Wilson, a former cook at the House of Commons, arrived in the UK in 1968, aged 10. She never applied for a British passport and has no papers proving her right to remain. Last October, she was sent to the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for a week, then taken to Heathrow for deportation to Jamaica. A last-minute intervention from her MP and a charity prevented her removal, and Guardian publicity resulted in her receiving a biometric card.
Anthony Bryan, 60
‘There has still been no apology’
Bryan has spent three weeks in immigration removal centres over the past two years. He lost his job when Capita told him he had no right to be in the UK, and that it could be fined £10,000 if it continued to employ him. Last November, police and immigration officials arrived early 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 never returned. Officials recently acknowledged he was in the UK legally.
Renford McIntyre, 64
‘I’ve worked hard all my life’
Having arrived in 1968, aged 14, McIntyre had worked in the UK for 48 years but is now sleeping in an industrial unit in Dudley. 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 and the local council told him he was not eligible for benefits.
Michael Braithwaite, 66
‘I’m glad my story opened up the dysfunctionality of the Home Office’
Braithwaite arrived with his family from Barbados in 1961, aged eight. He lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant after the primary school where he had worked for more than 15 years deemed him an “illegal immigrant”. After a public outcry, the Home Office expedited documents confirming his right to be in the UK.
Hubert Howard, 61
‘They messed up my life’
Howard arrived in the UK, aged three, with his mother and has never lived anywhere else. His problems began when he wanted to urgently visit her back in Jamaica when she became ill, but without the relevant paperwork, his mother died without him seeing her. Labelled an “illegal immigrant”, he then lost his long-term job with the Peabody Trust.
Albert Thompson, 63
‘It’s grossly unfair’
Thompson (not his real name) arrived from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, to join his mother. After 44 years working as a mechanic he was denied cancer treatment when he could not show proof that he was in the UK legally. Despite Theresa May having said he would “be receiving the treatment he needs”, Thompson remains uncertain about whether he will get the necessary radiotherapy.
Sarah O’Connor, 57
‘They made me feel like I’m not British’
Having moved from Jamaica 51 years ago, aged six, the benefits agency challenged O’Connor’s immigration status last summer after she lost her job in the computer shop where she had worked for 16 years. Several potential new employers withdrew offers upon realising she had no passport. She had to sell her car and was facing bankruptcy in March. After her story was publicised last month, the Home Office promised to waive her fees for a biometric card application.
Elwaldo Romeo, 63
‘It scares the living daylights out of you’
In February, Romeo received a letter from the Home Office, citing the 1971 Immigration Act. It said he had “NOT been given leave to enter the United Kingdom” and offered “support on returning home”, despite the fact he had moved to the UK from Antigua 59 years ago, aged four. The problem may have been caused by an administrative error on his birth certificate. After publicity, the Home Office said it was “urgently reviewing” his case. Romeo is still waiting.
Whitfield Francis, 58
‘I want to earn a living for me and my family’
Francis came from Jamaica with his two sisters when he was about seven, to join their parents. He worked on repairing Royal Navy ships but after being made redundant four years ago, no one will employ him because he does not have a passport or other proof of his right to live and work in the UK.
Glenda Caesar, 57
‘I felt lost’
Caesar has spent decades worrying she might be deported, despite living in the UK since she was six months old. When her mother died Caesar tried to go to the Caribbean to bring her mother’s body back but was told she could not apply for a British passport. The Home Office has since granted her indefinite leave to remain.
Valerie Baker, 66
‘I am British; that’s all I can be’
Baker arrived from Jamaica in 1955, aged four. She worked her whole adult life until chronic back problems forced early retirement. Last April, the Home Office told her she had no legal basis to remain in the UK and if she didn’t leave within seven days, she could be deported. Further letters told Baker her disability allowance had been stopped and she needed to return “overpayments” of £33,590. She eventually got British citizenship through her marriage.