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‘All I want is to visit my family'

STILL HOPEFUL: Great grandmother Icilda Williams has been denied a visitor’s visa for the UK

THOUSANDS OF senior Commonwealth citizens who have returned to their home countries in the Caribbean and Africa could face not being able to return to the UK from abroad or risk deportation, according to senior diplomats and MPs.

The warning comes following the case of 83-year-old widowed nurse Icilda Williams.
The great-grandmother worked for the NHS for 30 years before deciding to retire to her native Jamaica in 1996.

Ms Williams moved to the UK from Jamaica with her husband in 1962 on a British Common- wealth passport which expired in 1967.

Both were Commonwealth citizens and British subjects.

The couple settled in Bradford where they raised a family. All of her children are British passport holders.

Following her retirement she returned to the UK every year to see her family on a visitor’s visa. But in 2014 her applica- tion for a visitor’s visa was re- fused and since then she has not been able to travel to the UK to visit her relatives despite multiple requests.

This is all despite the fact that she draws an NHS pension and full state pension.

Ms Williams told The Voice: “I was very surprised when my visitor’s visa was refused. I am very worried and depressed, particularly when one of my family is ill. One of my daughters had a major cancer scare and operation, and I wasn’t able to support her. My daughter-in-law was in chemo for a year, and then died. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral, or provide support to my son.

“Neither can I visit with the rest of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“I also want to visit my sister’s children because I am the only family they have left.”

After her application for a visitor’s visa was refused in 2014, Williams applied for a British passport on the basis of having previously held a British Commonwealth passport. She submitted the requested documents and her old Commonwealth passport. She recalled: “My solicitor advised that an application for Right of Abode was the best route to go. I applied for a passport when I was last in England. I visited the passport office with my daughter, tak- ing my old British Common- wealth passport with me.”

The former nurse continued: “The application was accepted there and then, but afterwards when I was back in Jamaica, my daughter got a phone call to say the application was rejected because no record of my British passport could be found.”

Despite the disappointment, she said she is trying to keep going with the support of her family.
She said: “I can’t afford to give up hope. All I want is to be able to visit my family, I have no wish to live there.”

Rev Guy Hewitt, the Barbados High Commissioner in London, below, said that Ms Williams’s case illustrates a wider issue.

He told The Voice: “People in the former colonies of the UK came here in the 1950s and ‘60s in a bid to address the labour shortages that were present at that time.

“They left the Caribbean for the Mother Country as it was known then as British subjects. Having secured the right to remain in the UK and subsequently being educated here, found employ- ment, and paid taxes here it never occurred to them that they were not legally British.

“What happened in 2012 is that the Home Office began systematic immigration checks and this is the problem. These long term undocumented migrants are not being treated as anomalies to be regularised but as illegal immigrants and as such they are being barred from working, and are refused access to Government services, denied NHS treatment and lose all their benefits, while some find themselves destitute, others detained and others have been deported.”

Hewitt added: “While there is an appreciation among this community of people that they need to get their status regularised, many of them are fearful because they’re hearing that it they go to the Home Office they will be deported or detained, others are hearing that because of the
cuts in legal aid, those most likely to face injustice have the least access to the means of securing justice. And here we’re talking about people who are low-skilled or have a limited education.”

Hewitt revealed that both he and other Caribbean diplomats and government ministers have been in active dialogue on this issue for a number of years.

He said: “The Caribbean governments have raised this issue bilaterally with the Foreign and Commonwealth office and we’re asking them to change the mindset that there are only two groups of residents in the UK which is legal residents and illegal immigrants. We are clear that there exists a third grey area made up of Commonwealth-born migrants, who with practical and legal support have been able to prove that they too belong in the UK.”

Brent MP Dawn Butler, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, inset below right, has launched an aware- ness campaign on the issue af- ter witnessing a sharp increase in cases of constituents having passport and visa issues despite living in the UK for decades.

According to Butler, there have been many cases where a person has only realised there is a problem with their status after having applied for jobs, or after having left the UK and trying to return only to be prevented from doing so due to not having the correct documentation.

She said: “I am shocked by the number of residents coming to me with problems related to their visas – one of my constituents was recently prevented from returning home to the UK after a holiday to see her family because she did not have the correct documentation, despite the fact she has lived and worked in the UK for decades.

“This forced her to stay out of the UK longer and apply for a new certificate to prove her status, putting her job and health at risk, while it also came at considerable cost.

“This was just the latest case in a worrying trend.

“While the Government must take responsibility and ensure people are made aware of the documentation required, we must be proactive and I am therefore starting this campaign in order to raise awareness of this problem.”

The cost of applying for a new Right to Abode certificate from outside the UK is £423 and a Certificate of Abode or a No Time Limit application costs hundreds of pounds wherever you apply from.

The application process can take over six months to process unless you pay an additional significant cost for the premium service which can run into the thousands of pounds.

Butler added: “I want to avoid other families going through this experience and I therefore urge people to check their immigration status, and those of their relatives, by checking the date on your passport containing your visa has not expired or ensure that you hold a valid document displaying your immigration status.

“I do not want people to get caught out.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We value the contribution made by Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK. 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 and submit the appropriate application with correct documentation so we can progress the case.

“Each visa application is decided on its individual merits and in line with the Immigration Rules.”

Referring to Ms Williams’ case the spokesperson said: “Icilda Williams left the UK 22 years ago. It is open to her to apply for a visa to visit or set- tle in the UK. Her most recent application was not as a visitor as she applied for a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode. Mrs Williams failed to provide the correct information in her application for a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right to Abode. She was contacted to explain how the application did not qualify and what documen- tation she does need.”

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