Today the story of the “Windrush children” — Caribbean Commonwealth citizens being hassled for papers after being in the UK for 40 or 50 years — finally bubbled over. Dogged reporting by Amelia Gentleman of the Guardian eventually pushed the issue of elderly Caribbean migrants losing jobs, NHS care and access to benefits to the top of the political agenda, awakening the conscience of right-wing MPs and outlets (even as far right as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Leave.EU).
With pollsters recording overwhelming public support for a solution to their woes, the Home Secretary was under pressure to deliver more than her junior minister’s weekend bromides by the time she stood up in the House of Commons to answer an urgent question from David Lammy.
When my parents came here they arrived as British citizens. This has come about because of the hostile environments policy begun by Theresa May. If you lie down with dogs then you get fleas. This is where so much anti-immigrant rhetoric gets us #Windrush pic.twitter.com/qTF3Va5dq9
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 16, 2018
For full background on the issues, see Nick’s analysis: Windrush children: why Commonwealth citizens are being denied immigration status. In a nutshell:
Children of Commonwealth migrants who arrived in the UK prior to 1 January 1973, and who have remained in the UK since then, are in the UK legally.
Many of these former child migrants are now elderly, and perhaps more reliant on state services that in the past. As Colin points out in his thread today, the “hostile/compliant environment” policy of forcing migrants to prove their immigration status at every turn in a bid to smoke out the undocumented means that people are increasingly having to produce paperwork where in the past they would be free to access public (and private) services unmolested. The end result is the horror stories we have seen in recent months.
For people to get official proof of their pre-existing right to reside, they need to apply to the Home Office for a No Time Limit residence permit (“a simple card which is available from the Home Office”, as Caroline Nokes has it).
The problem has been proving entitlement to that card without the right evidence, access to legal advice, and hard cash (£229, for people who often had never applied for the British passport they thought they were entitled to for lack of means).
The cross party consensus that “Something Must Be Done” is very welcome. The problem is that there is no quick fix. Short thread. 1/? https://t.co/TifCZ0QISH
— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) April 16, 2018
Amber Rudd has today made the following commitments with a view to easing these various burdens:
- A 20-person Home Office team has been set up with a view to resolve these cases within two weeks:
A new dedicated team will be set up to help those people to evidence their right to be here and to access the necessary services. The team will help the applicants to demonstrate that they are entitled to live in the UK, and it will be tasked with resolving cases within two weeks when the evidence has been provided.
The team will have 20 people in it.
- The No Time Limit fee will be waived:
I intend to ensure that the group will not pay for this documentation.
There will be no charge for it.
I can confirm that we are not going to charge for the no-time-limit status
- The Home Office will actively help with finding the necessary evidence in government records:
We hope to be able to get the necessary information ourselves in the same way that we are looking ahead to the EU settled status, when we will be able to engage with other Departments to look at national insurance numbers. We will share things and will take the responsibility for finding the evidence, so that we can get the documents for those who need them.
We are going to work with them in a cross-Government way, so if they come to us with their address and date of birth, we will start from that point and try to build a picture to evidence the circumstances and, within two weeks, get them the permits that they need to be able to access services.
Looks like shared burden of proof for NTL applications going forward – @ukhomeoffice will ask for name and DOB and will start with this and then a 'special team' will pick up the baton
— Edgewater Legal (@EdgewaterLegal) April 16, 2018
- Nobody in this situation will be detained or deported while their situation is being assessed:
The right hon. Lady asks particularly about removals and detention, and I reassure her and the House that I have given an explicit instruction. In accordance with my wishes today, there will be no removals or detention as part of any assistance to help former Commonwealth citizens get their proper documentation in place.
- Anyone already “deported in error” can have their case looked at:
I can tell him that I do not know of any cases where people have been removed. However, I have said to Members here, as I have said to the high commissioners, that if they know of any cases, they should bring them to us.
I invite people who have any such evidence to bring it to the Home Office so that we can take a look.
- MPs will have access to a dedicated hotline to highlight individual cases:
I will ensure that everybody in the House has the details of the taskforce contact point.
Members of Parliament will need to be able to access that hotline and to access all the information so that we can act fairly, efficiently and effectively for the Windrush generation, which is so valued in this country.
- The Home Office is going to come over all liberal and helpful:
The default position will be to accept.
Will the hon. Lady please tell her community that the Home Office is here to help it?
I appreciate this may not answer all questions that people might have. I’ll update this post with more details as and when they become available. Some may appear on this dedicated Home Office page for Undocumented Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK. In particular, that page now includes contact details for the Windrush unit:
Freephone: 0800 678 1925
Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm
Sunday 10am to 4pm
A further summary of the process is contained in a letter from the immigration minister to Caribbean diplomats and ministers.
One suggestion was not picked up on: a compensation scheme for loss of earnings, legal fees incurred and general distress caused. There are, as Colin has written before, “only some limited circumstances where it is possible to extract compensation from the Home Office by means of a court case”. A case can be pursued to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, but it is protracted and involves multiple hoops. A dedicated scheme of redress would go some way towards upholding the noble sentiments expressed in the House today.
While we’re at it, a government so concerned with the plight of the Windrush children might consider a helping hand for their modern-day equivalents. There is a fee of £1,012 for “registration” of a child entitled to non-automatic British nationality. As the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens explains, some lose this right forever if registration doesn’t take place in time. The actual processing costs of these applications is £372 — so the Home Office is making a hefty margin on each one. Giving it up to prevent a future Windrush scandal would be a small price to pay.