An article by Karen Rimmer, Paragon Law
On 22 June 1948 the ship MV Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK. The ship carried 492 passengers – many of them children.
This now infamous docking has given its name to a generation of people present in the UK who have come to represent the devastating impact that so many recent drastic changes of legislation and Immigration Rules have had on our society.
In 2012, official figures showed that net immigration was still running at about 250,000 a year, well above the “tens of thousands” that the Conservatives promised the Coalition would deliver. In response to this, Theresa May gave a speech in Parliament about her wish to ensure fairness by introducing a new Immigration Bill. At the time, she told the Telegraph newspaper that it was her aim to “to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.  There has been much media coverage of the speech Mrs May gave in parliament that day. She loudly declared:
“Part 3 of the Bill is about migrants’ access to services. We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labour market, health services, housing, bank accounts and driving licences. This is not just about making the UK a more hostile place for illegal migrants – it is also about fairness. Those who play by the rules and work hard do not want to see businesses gaining an unfair advantage through the exploitation of illegal labour. They don’t want to see our valuable public services – paid for by the taxpayer – used and abused by illegal migrants.”
The reality is, however, that even those migrants perfectly legally present have been impacted by the measures taken, and found themselves in dire straits. The Windrush generation are a prime example of this.
The Immigration Act 1971 allowed for those who came from Commonwealth countries to remain in the UK indefinitely and to be exempt from deportation in certain circumstances. However, recent changes in the law have meant that gradually more and more responsibility for immigration control has been delegated to every day service providers.
The hostile environment created by government changes have resulted in the need to present valid ID and proof of immigration status for tenancies, bank accounts, a driving licence, employment opportunities and access to benefits, access to NHS care and financial support. It is also important, as legal professionals have discovered, that the proof of status, is in the correct format. In the current climate, those immigrants who entered the UK prior to the introduction of the new-style biometric residence permit struggle to convince employers of their right to work.
Initial experiences of the Windrush generation came in September 2012, when many people were wrongly accused of having overstayed. A variety of methods were used to inform people of this accusation. Initially, letters were sent. The letters indicated that, without evidence of their right to stay, people would be expected to leave the UK immediately or it would be made difficult for them to remain in the UK. This was usually followed up by a barrage of texts, phone calls and even, in extreme circumstances, knocks on the door.
The government’s response to this was to ask people to make an application to prove their right to remain in the UK. This application, at the time, cost £220 (currently £229). Unsurprisingly, many people were not aware of this requirement, and those who were did not apply for various reasons, not least because of the fee. The result of not applying was that many people lost their benefits entitlement, were suspended from work, some even losing their jobs because of the risk of prosecution for employers or have been threatened with eviction. It is also impossible to travel to and from the UK without proof of your immigration status and a national passport (something also required for any paid immigration application at present)
As a firm, we have experienced cases where people have been made homeless, those on long-term sick have had to rely on the support of family and friends whilst their benefits were investigated.
The government officially states, in a statement on the Gov website, that they recognise that people will not have documents from 40 years ago. They go on to state that the types of documents that can help an application are exam certificates, employment records, your National Insurance number, birth and marriage certificates, bills and letters.
The reality is that they require a much more detailed demonstration of time spent in the UK. They must be satisfied from the evidence that the applicant has not left the UK for more than 2 years at any time during the period that they have lived in the UK. Some applicants are required to provide documentary evidence to cover every single year of over 60 years residence, which amounts to vast swathes of documents. Routinely, legal practitioners find that, despite a consenting signature to a background check of records, such checks are not carried out. If they were, then it would be seen that the generation of Windrush applicants had validly been present for the requisite time, without them having to be threatened with deportation. The onus is placed squarely on the individual to apply with the right documents, and a correctly completed application or it will be rejected as invalid.
Adding to the trauma of attempting to meet the documentary threshold is the fact that, in recent days, it has come to light that thousands of landing cards were destroyed, a phenomenon that we as a firm have come across resulting in difficulty for our clients. It is unclear what it was hoped that this action achieved.
Scaremongery and fear tactics have caused anxiety amongst a generation of people who originally only came to the UK to assist with the post-war effort. They legitimately assumed that they were legally present. Indeed, they were, but did not have the proof to show it.
It is important to receive advice and representation as soon as possible when the Secretary of State indicates that she believes that you may not be legally present in the UK. We can assist with document gathering and make representations to demonstrate eligibility to benefit from the concessions that allowed for indefinite stay in the UK for the Windrush generation. Obtaining sound legal advice early in the process can help to prevent the possibility of removal action being taken at all.
To find out more on this subject please contact the writer, Karen Rimmer, at firstname.lastname@example.org