We have followed with interest the developments of this story and were delighted to hear Amber Rudd’s announcement yesterday that those referred to as the “Windrush Generation” will be granted British citizenship at no cost. This is a fantastic result for those caught up in the confusion, further details of which are below.
The term “Windrush Generation” refers to migrants who lawfully entered the UK before 1971 from Commonwealth countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados. At the time, nationals from Commonwealth countries were actively encouraged to come to the UK. The law changed on 1 January 1973 with the enactment of the Immigration Act 1971 which added restrictions to Commonwealth nationals being able to enter and settle in the UK. The Act also granted indefinite leave to remain to those Commonwealth citizens already resident in the UK by way of automatic acquisition.
Many entered the UK as children travelling on their parents’ passports and have not since applied for immigration documents. Whilst the 1971 Act automatically granted indefinite leave to remain, individuals would not be able to evidence their status unless an application was made. Furthermore, the Home Office did not keep a record of those who entered during this period, making it extremely difficult for Windrush arrivals to now prove they are here lawfully. This has been further complicated by the fact that the Home Office destroyed the landing cards of thousands of Windrush migrants in 2010, making it even harder to demonstrate their lawful status.
This problem has become more pronounced as the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy has affected Windrush migrants albeit that they are lawfully living in the UK. The policy requires for all individuals to hold official documentation to allow them to work, open a bank account, rent somewhere to live, hold a driving licence, access state benefits and use NHS services. The Government failed to consider how this would impact members of society who are living lawfully in the UK but have not taken steps to document their status, including an estimated 500,000 Windrush migrants.
There have been some particularly harrowing stories of people losing their jobs or being denied medical treatment as they have not been able to evidence their immigration status, despite being here lawfully for decades. It has also been suggested that some migrants may have been wrongfully deported as a result of not being able to prove their entry or status in the UK. These stories sparked outrage and following much media coverage and commentary, yesterday Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that people from all Commonwealth countries (not just the Caribbean) will be entitled to apply to naturalise as British citizens without having to pay the application fee of £1,330. In addition, they will not be required to pass the Life in the UK test or meet the English language requirement, which is compulsory for all other applicants.
The Home Office has set up a new team tasked at dealing with the immigration cases of any Commonwealth nationals affected and has stated that 9 cases have already been resolved with a further 84 appointments made via a Freephone helpline. The Home Secretary has also stated that compensation will be offered to those who have “suffered loss”, although it is yet to be seen what form this will take and whether it will adequately compensate those who have suffered as a result of the Government’s actions.