The hostile environment extends to Commonwealth citizens

17 April 2018

You may have read the recent stories in the press regarding people who have been here for years, in some cases, as long as 50, and who travelled from the Caribbean in the 1950s.  After spending years in the UK, they are now receiving correspondence from the UKVI that they have to leave.

In the 1950s people from the Caribbean were asked to come to the UK and help to rebuild the country post-war. At that time many travelled here and took up jobs as nurses, bus conductors and so on.  It was told to me from relatives that they came to “clean up” the UK after the war.  Under those circumstances, and travelling from the Caribbean, meant that you were part of the Commonwealth and colonies and when you landed in the UK, you did so as a British Subject and therefore, with the Right of Abode (ROA). The ROA allows you to live and work freely in the UK and you are not subject to immigration control.  In order to be recognised as a person with a Right of Abode you would need to satisfy the following:

  1. One of your parents was born in the UK and a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies when you were born or adopted
  2. You were a Commonwealth citizen on 31 December 1982
  3. You didn’t stop being a Commonwealth citizen (even temporarily) at any point after 31 December 1982

So, let’s explore each of the above:

If you came to the UK as child in the 1950s and your parents were citizens of the colonies, eg Jamaica, then you were likely to qualify under the first point.

Under the second point, it wasn’t until the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force that this changed everything and those who travelled from the Caribbean could no longer rely upon (point 1) being recognised as a British Subject, thus obtaining ROA. The 1981 Act moved the goalpost and you had to show that if you were a citizen of the UK and Colonies at 31 December 1982, you could retain the citizenship by being born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the UK.  It became more complex and was certainly not as “automatic” as the previous provision.

Many people did not register as British Citizens, perhaps not knowing the requirement to do so. There were other requirements as well, such as being continuously resident for at least five years or more, not being in breach of immigration control and so on. What was clear was that it become more complicated and wasn’t easy to show that you had a right to be here.

The third point causes further issues, particularly when you look at the words in brackets, “even temporarily”. So, if we use Jamaica as an example: they obtained their independence in 1962, which meant they were no longer a colony of the UK. Therefore, the Jamaicans who were living in the UK and, without British passports of their own, may have been entitled to Jamaican ones upon application, therefore perhaps, temporarily no longer a commonwealth citizen as they had “temporarily” lost that right when Jamaica became independent.  The person had to prove on application to the UKVI that they were entitled to British Citizenship. This is where the problems occur, because if you have lived here for 40+ years, as far as you are concerned you must be British. What else could you be?

I had to consider all these point when a client came to me, over a year ago now, to tell me that she had received a letter from the UKVI asking her to leave the UK within seven days and register with her local police station.  She was frantic with worry.  Rather embarrassingly, I remember telling her, before I had seen the UKVI letter, that as she received the post on Saturday 1 April, it was likely to be an April fool’s joke! Sadly, it wasn’t and she had arrived in the UK aged five and was now 65 years old. She had taken early retirement from being an accountant, due to health issues. She was typical of those travelling to the UK in the 1950s and had arrived on her aunt’s passport. She is married to a British Citizen and has been for the last 40 years, therefore, when presenting her case to the UKVI we avoided having to “prove” with documentary evidence that she had landed as a British Subject and therefore had ROA. We proved her right to be here by virtue of her marriage, as this was the quickest way we could get her to show her entitlement to British Citizenship. We were able to do this within weeks as opposed to months, but our joy was short lived, when she told me she had received a bill for some £38,000 which, apparently, was the cost of the medical treatment she had received! This was eventually, after my client wrote to everyone, cancelled, and she didn’t have to pay anything.

I appreciate that (particularly, with the latest news coverage) the government is saying that it will be sensitive to these cases, so that’s good news. However, when you consider the immigration legislation that continues to be introduced, you can see why the issues are happening. The government for many years continues to put the pressure on ordinary citizens to manage immigration. You simply need to look at The Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, which require landlords to check that the people who are renting have the right to be in the UK. Banks are given the right to check that those who have bank accounts have the right to be in the UK. The NHS has a duty to inform the UKVI if they come across someone who is having medical treatment but may not be a British citizen. The immigration legislation, introduced over the years, continues to emphasise the financial, criminal and civil penalties that one can find themselves in, so of course “ordinary citizens” who don’t want to find themselves in trouble will, innocently, send details to the UKVI if they can’t establish whether the person is British or not.

Given the current climate regarding immigration, it is no surprise that the government is making huge moral mistakes by targeting innocent people. Sadly, it reminds me of Enoch Powell’s distasteful speech so many years ago! 

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