The UK used to be attractive to us academics. Now it’s just hostile

Nov 28, 2019 by

The Home Office’s system for settling migrants is cruel and haphazard. I feel like I’m being driven out, says research fellow Asiya Islam

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Asiya Islam: ‘Like many others, I was attracted to come to the UK by its international reputation for academic excellence.’

I have lived, studied and worked in the UK for over 10 years. But earlier this month, the Home Office refused my application for indefinite leave to remain, which would have given me the right to settle in the UK. This has left me with a huge degree of uncertainty about my career and future here in the UK, with my current visa due to expire on 30 January 2020.

The Home Office took five weeks to arrive at a decision despite my “super priority” application (which promises a decision within 24 hours for an additional £800). But I had only 14 calendar days to absorb the shock, find lawyers and file an appeal.

My application for settlement was rejected on grounds of “excess absences” from the country. The Home Office decided to not exercise discretion for the time I spent conducting essential fieldwork in Delhi for my PhD at the University of Cambridge. In the refusal letter, they erroneously called it my “field of work” and said that I had failed to provide “exceptional reasons” for my “out of time” application, even though I had actually applied before the expiry of my current visa. The glaring errors in my refusal letter are alarming but not surprising. Many academics in the recent past (including academics at Oxford, Leicester, St Andrews, Glasgow and Durham) have fallen victim to the Home Office’s haphazard, arbitrary and unreasonable decision-making.

Since my case has been reported widely, I have been approached by several individuals with very similar cases who have fought and won drawn-out, complicated and expensive battles against the Home Office. While some of these cases have had media attention, many others have not. The common reason for refusal has been the applicant spending time out of the country doing essential research that ultimately contributes to UK universities and the economy. Rather than carefully considering and respecting case precedent, the Home Office spends public money on appeals that it mostly loses.

Boris Johnson has reiterated his desire to attract “the brightest and the best” to Britain – a common theme in the government’s political rhetoric on immigration. And in his spring 2019 statement, the then chancellor, Philip Hammond, made specific reference to the commitment to make overseas research activity count as residence in the country for the purposes of settlement, so that researchers are not unfairly penalised for time spent overseas conducting vital fieldwork.

Source: The UK used to be attractive to us academics. Now it’s just hostile | Asiya Islam | Opinion | The Guardian

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