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Man living in UK for 56 years loses job over immigration papers

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Man living in UK for 56 years loses job over immigration papers” was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Monday 9th April 2018 14.35 UTC

An experienced special needs teaching assistant lost his job after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant, despite the fact he has lived in the UK for more than 50 years.

Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1961, had worked at a north London primary school for over 15 years when a routine check on his immigration status revealed he did not have an up-to-date identity document.

The personnel department got in touch to tell him that without a biometric card he could not continue to be employed. The 66-year-old lost his full-time job in 2017 after the local authority ruled he needed to submit documentary proof that he had the right to live in the UK. He has been trying for two years without success to get the Home Office to acknowledge that he is in Britain legally.

The unexpected immigration difficulties have pushed him close to a mental breakdown. “It made me feel like I was an alien. I almost fell apart with the stress,” he said.

Braithwaite arrived in London with his family when he was nine, when his father moved to work for the Post Office, and he has lived in the UK since. He had always assumed he was British, having attended primary school and secondary school here, and having worked continuously since leaving school. He married in London and has three British children and five grandchildren.

“I never applied for a British passport. We thought we were British,” he said. Because he arrived in the UK before 1973 he has an automatic permanent right to remain, but the introduction of the “hostile environment” policy by Theresa May as home secretary in 2013 has required employers, the NHS, Jobcentre staff and landlords to run checks for papers, causing problems for people who do not have documentary proof of their right to live in the UK.

Michael Braithwaite with his one-year-old granddaughter Sieena Ray
Michael Braithwaite with his one-year-old granddaughter Sieena Ray. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Braithwaite is one of an emerging group of people who were born in Commonwealth countries and arrived in the UK as children who have discovered half a century later that they have serious and hard to fix immigration problems. Lawyers working for people in this situation say the level of documentary proof required by the Home Office is extremely high, with officials requesting to see a minimum of one, but preferably four, pieces of documentary evidence for every year spent in the UK. Often GP surgeries and schools that might have been able to provide documentary proof of their residence have since closed, and records destroyed.

Public anger over the emerging problem is rising. Patrick Vernon, editor of Black History Month magazine, has launched a petition calling on the Home Office to reduce the high burden of proof required from Windrush generation settlers who arrived from the Caribbean in the UK as children. “As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Windrush, this creates a sour message about whether we are valued and respected. A lot of people are feeling very upset,” he said.

Fundraising efforts to help pay for cancer treatment for Albert Thompson (not his real name) who is in a similar situation to Braithwaite, raised more than £24,000 in five days. Thompson arrived from Jamaica as a teenager and has lived and worked in the UK continuously for 44 years but was denied NHS radiotherapy for prostate cancer last November.

Braithwaite was distraught at losing his job. “I had a good rapport with the children. The head said I was an asset to the school, but the HR department said I was illegal because I didn’t have a biometric card,” he said. A biometric card is a residence permit issued to non-British residents, with details of their immigration status. “I had no idea what a biometric card was. I had no idea there was a need to naturalise.”

He began attempting to untangle his immigration situation in 2016 when he first understood there was a problem. When it proved difficult to resolve quickly, he lost his job in February 2017. His lawyer said Home Office records showed he had the right to be in the UK, but officials repeatedly failed to issue him with documents to reflect this.

The latest letter from the Home Office, sent this month, told him he needed to provide further documentary evidence to show he was in the UK before 1973.

Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, said he would be “raising the case of his unjust treatment directly with the UK authorities”.

Highlighting the contribution that West Indian migrants made in the post-second world war era to the building of modern Britain, and given “the UK’s commitment to the Commonwealth”, Hewitt called on the government “to act with urgency and compassion to find a solution to the current treatment of some elderly, Caribbean-born, UK-residents as ‘illegal immigrants’ as a result of their irregular status”. He said such treatment exposed them to the risk of “destitution and detention, along with the possibility of deportation”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We will be in touch with Mr Braithwaite very soon to assure him that we are looking to resolve his case as soon as possible and issue him with documentation confirming his status here. We value the contribution made by Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK.”

Enny Choudhury, Braithwaite’s lawyer, from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “For almost one year the Home Office has failed to issue the biometric card, without which he cannot work or move on with his life, causing uncertainty and distress.”

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‘The stress is making me ill’: woman’s immigration battle after 51 years in UK

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘The stress is making me ill’: woman’s immigration battle after 51 years in UK” was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Monday 26th March 2018 05.00 UTC

Sarah O’Connor moved to Britain from Jamaica 51 years ago, when she was six, and has lived here ever since. Last year she was challenged by the benefits agency to prove she was in the country legally, unleashing a torrent of immigration-related problems. For the past nine months she has been left facing bankruptcy, afraid to open the front door in case it is the Home Office coming to deport her or bailiffs arriving to remove her property.

O’Connor is unable to provide documentary evidence to prove she is here legally. Without this paperwork, she has been unable to take up new work and has been refused unemployment benefits, leaving her without an income. She sold her car at the beginning of the year, but she is struggling to pay her rent and is falling further into debt.

She is one of a growing group of long-term UK residents who arrived as children from Commonwealth countries in the 1960s and are now facing complex problems as a result of the introduction by the government in 2013 of a hardline immigration policy known as “hostile environment”.

O’Connor’s difficulties emerged last summer when she lost her job in a computer shop where she had worked for 16 years. When she applied successfully for a number of new jobs, she found she was unable to take them up because they asked her for a British passport, which she does not have. When she went to the jobcentre to apply for benefits to tide her over while she tried to sort the problem out, she was told she was not eligible.

Having lived in the UK for more than half a century, attending primary and secondary school here, working continuously, paying taxes and national insurance, holding a driving licence and voting in general elections; having been married for 17 years to someone British and having had four children here (all of whom have British passports), she is puzzled as to why her immigration status is being questioned.

“It was the way they treated me because I didn’t have a British passport. I said I’ve had no reason to go out of the country so I’ve never applied for one. They made me feel like I’m not British. I came home and cried,” O’Connor said. Debt companies have written to say they will be visiting to see which of her belongings they can take away to sell at auction.

“I can’t get another job without proving I’m legal and I can’t get the documents to do that. The stress of it is making me ill. When the doorbell goes I worry if it’s not the debt enforcers it’s going to be the immigration people, telling me I don’t belong here and trying to send me back to a country I don’t know.”

Her difficulties came to light after media coverage of Paulette Wilson, who was sent to an immigration detention centre despite having been in the country for 50 years, and Albert Thompson (who has asked for his real name not to be revealed), who is currently not receiving cancer treatment after being told he would need to pay £54,000 for it, despite having lived in London for the past 44 years. Numerous other cases have emerged of people who have lost their jobs or been made homeless because they are unable to provide documentary evidence of their right to be in the UK.

O’Connor never applied for a British passport. “The furthest I’ve ever been is the Lake District. I didn’t know that I needed to have a naturalisation number; I didn’t even know what that was,” she said.

She has tried to sort out her lack of paperwork, but has been unable to pursue the first stage because it requires a £237 initial payment and the whole naturalisation process costs over £1,200 – money she does not have since she is unable to work. After O’Connor’s case was raised by the Guardian with the Home Office, an official called her on Wednesday and promised to send forms so she could apply to remain. When she said she was unable to pay the fee, another official called her back to say the fee could be waived for her.

She is bewildered by an offer of help that has come only when her case looked set to attract media attention, and she remains uncertain about whether she will be able to find enough documents to prove she has been here a lifetime. Initial attempts have proved unsuccessful. Her MP’s office contacted the Home Office on her behalf and was told: “I have searched our systems and can find no Home Office record for Ms O’Connor.”

O’Connor has contacted the National Archives to see if they can find a record of her immigration status and was told: “Unfortunately I could find no entry for your name.”

Sally Daghlian, the chief executive of Praxis Community Projects, which has supported more than 120 people in situations similar to O’Connor’s, said: “The burden of proof is astonishingly high. An individual has to produce a minimum of one but preferably four pieces of documentary evidence for every year they have been in the UK. Documents dating back decades must be sought from the tax office, DWP and other official sources. In many cases such records no longer exist.”

She said the introduction of the hostile environment was increasing the prevalence of racist decisions. “Non-immigration specialists (doctors, administrators, civil servants, landlords) are now required to check immigration status before delivering services. This inevitably leads to discriminatory requests for passports, as judgments are being made on the basis of colour, accent, ethnicity and can result in racist practices.”

In the 1970s and 80s O’Connor worked in a greengrocers and for Ford Dagenham as a cleaner, but she doesn’t have paperwork to prove it. “Wages weren’t paid straight into bank accounts then. I don’t have the payslips; I keep receipts and paper slips for six years – then I throw them away. If I didn’t the house would overflow with paperwork,” she said. “It’s so ridiculous. I see myself as British. The government was happy taking my taxes and national insurance payments for 30 years.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We understand these individuals may not have the relevant documentation to support their application, and so we work closely with applicants to consider alternative documentation to prove their ongoing residence. Those who have resided in the UK for an extended period but feel they may not have the correct documentation confirming their leave to remain should take legal advice.”

O’Connor said she was puzzled by the suggestion that she seek legal advice. “People in my situation can’t pay the fees because we’re not allowed to work. How can I get legal advice without money?”

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Theresa May refuses to intervene over man’s £54,000 NHS cancer bill

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Theresa May refuses to intervene over man’s £54,000 NHS cancer bill” was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd March 2018 16.55 UTC

Theresa May has refused to intervene in the case of Albert Thompson, the London cancer patient asked to pay £54,000 for treatment despite having lived in the UK for 44 years, as it emerged that there could be tens of thousands of people in a similarly uncertain immigration position.

Thompson, 63, is not receiving the radiotherapy treatment he needs for prostate cancer because he has been unable to provide officials with sufficient documentary evidence showing that he has lived in the UK continuously since arriving from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973. He is unable to pay the £54,000 fee.

May said responsibility for the decision to charge Thompson ahead of treatment lay with the Royal Marsden hospital. “No urgent treatment should ever be withheld or delayed by the NHS regardless of ability of willingness to pay,” she wrote in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, who raised the issue at prime minister’s questions last week.

Regulations introduced last October require hospitals to check patients’ paperwork, including passports and proof of address, and charge upfront for their healthcare if they do not have documentary proof of eligibility, unless the treatment is deemed to be urgent. “The decision on whether his treatment is urgent or immediately necessary must rightly be made by the clinicians treating him,” May wrote.

The Royal Marsden has repeatedly said that Thompson’s radiotherapy was not urgent. This surprises some prostate cancer specialists, who are puzzled why treatment prescribed for cancer can subsequently be deemed non-urgent, once the question of ability to pay is raised.

Despite sympathising with “Mr Thompson and the worries he will be facing given his condition”, the prime minister said he needed to “evidence his settled status” in the UK.

Thompson – who has asked for his real name not to be used – is one of a growing group of long-term UK residents facing life-shattering problems as a result of the government’s hostile immigration environment, which has been particularly affecting people who arrived as children from Commonwealth countries.

Research released this week by academics at the University of Oxford-based Migration Observatory suggests that there could be up to 57,000 people potentially vulnerable to similar problems, because although they arrived from Commonwealth countries before 1971, they have never applied for a British passport or been naturalised. Their difficulties are only beginning to emerge now as the government’s tightened immigration regime inadvertently hits the wrong targets.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: “This is an estimate of the population who arrived before 1971 but have not naturalised. It won’t be the case that all 57,000 can’t prove their legal status; we don’t know what share of them have problems with their paperwork and what proportion have everything in order. This is the maximum size of the population who are potentially at risk.”

Paulette Wilson
Paulette Wilson.
Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Thompson’s problems echo those experienced by Paulette Wilson, who was sent last year to an immigration detention centre and threatened with deportation to Jamaica, despite having been in Britain for 50 years. The Guardian has highlighted the cases of numerous other people who have lost their jobs or been made homeless because they are unable to prove they are in the UK legally, despite having lived in the country for over half a century.

Thompson’s lawyer Jeremy Bloom, at Duncan Lewis, said: “The application that Mr Thompson needs to make to regularise his stay is complex and requires a great deal of supporting evidence. Meanwhile, Mr Thompson is being refused potentially life-saving treatment unless he can pay for it. Theresa May does not appear to place much value on the contribution that Mr Thompson has made to the UK since 1973.”

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, highlighted news this week that the Royal Marsden foundation trust predicted it would receive an income of £210m over two years from providing private healthcare. “It’s astonishing that this man still hasn’t been able to access the treatment he needs. This is a trust which is making hundreds of millions from private patients, yet seemingly refusing to provide urgent cancer care,” he said.

A spokesperson for the the Royal Marsden said a cancer specialist would contact Thompson to discuss his treatment while he attempted to get his papers in order. Profits from private treatment were “ploughed back into the NHS for the benefit of our patients” and this had nothing to do with the the trust’s “legal obligation to check eligibility for access to NHS care”, the spokesperson said.

“It is disappointing that NHS staff, who are committed to public service, should be criticised for being professional and fair in applying the principles required of them on eligibility.”

Thompson, who worked as a mechanic and paid taxes for three decades before he became ill, has never applied for a British passport because he thought he had no need to; the Jamaican passport he arrived with was lost many years ago. He has also struggled to prove his eligibility for housing support and is currently living in a hostel. Over 87,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to give him treatment.

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Corbyn writes to May about man’s £54,000 NHS cancer bill

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Corbyn writes to May about man’s £54,000 NHS cancer bill” was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Sunday 18th March 2018 17.52 UTC

Jeremy Corbyn has written to Theresa May about Londoner Albert Thompson’s £54,000 bill for cancer treatment, saying the government risks allowing a patient to die because of difficulties proving immigration status.

Thompson, 63, who has lived continuously in the UK for 44 years since arriving from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, is not receiving the radiotherapy he needs for prostate cancer because the London hospital where he was due to start treatment last November told him he needed to provide proof of residency or pay upfront for his care.

He was unable to supply officials with required documents, so he was told he needed to find £54,000. Thompson, who has asked for his real name not to be used, is increasingly worried about the potential impact on his health of the delay of more than four months. The Labour leader called on ministers to “intervene immediately in his case to ensure that this man gets access to the care that he needs”.

Corbyn said Thompson’s situation was not unique and he was dealing with a similar case in his constituency, which he had also raised with the Home Office. He said the cases were a direct result of new regulations introduced last October requiring hospital departments and community health services to check every patient’s paperwork, including passports and proof of address, and charge upfront for their healthcare if they did not have documentary proof of eligibility.

The case raised the prospect that many undocumented British citizens were being denied free NHS treatment, and that the principle of the universal NHS, free at the point of need, was being eroded, he wrote.

“Every patient, including British citizens, can be asked about their residency status and made to prove they are entitled to free NHS care,” he said. He quoted concerns raised by the shadow spokesperson for health and social care, Philip Hunt, who said in the Lords last year that, as a result of the new regulations, “many people who legitimately live here and have every right to NHS treatment are going to be challenged by the NHS”.

Thompson, who worked as a mechanic before he became ill, has never applied for a British passport because he had no need to, but the Jamaican passport he arrived with was lost many years ago. In the tightened hostile immigration environment, launched by Theresa May in 2013, he has struggled to prove his eligibility for housing support and free healthcare.

A spokesperson for the hospital said Thompson “continues to be treated by his GP as directed by the cancer specialist. His radiotherapy is not urgent. We are very sorry this has caused Mr Thompson distress and uncertainty and are working hard to try to resolve this as quickly as possible.”

Thompson said he had not seen a GP about his prostate cancer treatment since early last year.

Doctors have expressed confusion at the decision to classify the radiotherapy as non-urgent. Joe Rylands, a spokesperson for Docs Not Cops, a group of healthcare professionals campaigning to protect free access to healthcare for all people, said: “I cannot foresee any circumstances whereby a patient has been deemed to need ‘discretionary’ radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Either they need it by team decision, when it is potentially life-saving, or they don’t. To withdraw it on the basis of nationality appears unethical and incompatible with the principles of the NHS.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister had received the letter and would respond in due course. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our guidance makes clear that urgent and immediately necessary care should never be withheld or delayed.”

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