Hundreds of highly skilled people who were forced to abandon their careers because of a legally flawed decision are now living in destitution because of the government’s haphazard response to a court ruling that found they may have been wrongly stripped of their rights.
More than 1,600 doctors, civil servants and other professionals who had settled in Britain have been threatened with deportation and forced to leave their jobs in recent years for making legal amendments to their tax records, after the Home Office applied a section of immigration law also designed to remove people who pose a threat to national security.
A damning Court of Appeal judgment in April ruled that the department’s decision to refuse leave-to-remain applications from these individuals was legally flawed, and that the applicants had not been provided a fair opportunity to dispute the charge.
But lawyers said the Home Office had since used “delay tactics” to avoid providing a remedy to those affected, leaving at least 300 people who continue to argue their innocence stuck in limbo, with many living hand-to-mouth to feed their British-born children.
Campaigners said it was “completely unacceptable” that the government was continuing to delay the cases and subsequently allowing people who have done nothing wrong to fall deeper into the hostile environment.
One man who was refused his rights in 2015 under paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules, and has since been trying to fight his case, said he was having to choose between buying food for his newborn child and toddler, taking his severely ill wife to the doctor, and putting the heating on in winter.
Another said the Home Office delays following the Court of Appeal ruling were “destroying [him] bit by bit” because it was preventing him from being reunited with his four-year-old son, who is currently in India, whom he hasn’t seen since he was just four months old.
Sonali Naik QC of Garden Court Chambers, who represented four lead applicants in the Court of Appeal, said that following the court judgment, the Home Office had been playing a “tactical game” to “dodge and weave” the issue.
“We were expecting a policy document that would deal with what their approach is going to be to the existing cases, but that hasn’t come,” she said.
“The Home Office calls it a compliant environment but what can these people comply with? They can’t do anything until the Home Office has resolved what their position is on the dishonesty, and then how any legal challenges would go forward.
“The inference seems to be that the more difficult they make it, some people will give up and go home. It’s an unfair tactic, whether deliberate or not.”
Ahmed Tilal Pasha, 36, who came to the UK on a student visa in 2003 and was then granted a work visa, was refused indefinite leave to remain in 2015 under 322(5) based on a tax error that he rectified immediately after he was notified of it.
The then Slough resident consequently lost his job as a sales consultant and was forced to move with his wife, Wasia, who has heart disease, and their two-year-old daughter and newborn son to the north of England where rents were lower. But the family’s problems grew.
“After a few months, I ran out of money. And at the same time, I was having to take my wife to the hospital because she had constant appointments, sometimes all the way down to London and back again,” he said.
“We started selling stuff, including my wife’s jewellery, and then I came to the position where I didn’t have anything, and one night, the pay-as-you-go meter said there was no money. We didn’t have heating.
“My youngest child was just a few months old, my wife was a heart patient, I had another child, there was no food in the house. We put on all the clothes that we had and got into one bed, without food.”
The situation worsened further when Mr Pasha’s wife’s condition became critical: “I was living under the stress of shall I get the food first, shall I take her to the doctor, or shall I get the clothes?” he said.
“My wife would ask what was going to happen and my job was to calm her down because if she gets stressed out she gets heart palpitations.
“And then we had to start missing her appointments. I didn’t have money. It got to the point where I didn’t know if she would wake up in the morning.”
The family eventually moved into a room in a friend’s house in London, where they are still living, relying on help from friends for food and a school uniform for his daughter.
Mr Pasha had been hopeful after the appeal court judgment in April that his case would be reconsidered. “My question to the Home Office is: ‘while this issue is going on, how am I going to feed my kids?’
“When I ask, I don’t get any response. They are delaying it every single time. For us, every day is a very hard day. Every day I wake up, I figure out how I can feed my family.
“It’s too much suffering for one human. To the people who made the hostile environment, they have done the job very well. I know what it means when you lose your job, lose your house, lose your dignity.
“Having come here when I was 20 years old, studied here, worked here – is this what we deserve? Is this the Great Britain?”
Another highly skilled individual affected, Arvind Bhagvan Savaliya, 35, who came to the UK as a student in 2007 before becoming an IT consultant, said the situation was “destroying [him] bit by bit” because it had left him unable to see his young son or visit his elderly father before he died.
The Indian national applied for indefinite leave to remain in 2016, at which point his wife and newborn son went to stay in India for several months so he could then apply for them to join him.
Mr Savaliya’s application was refused the following year under section 322(5) due to a tax error he had corrected in 2015. During this time, his wife died of food poisoning and he was unable to travel to India for her funeral.
He has since been trying to fight his case in the courts but has been unable to see his son – who has been looked after by his parents in India – meaning he hasn’t seen the boy since he was a few months old.
Things became more complicated when Mr Savaliya’s father died last week, leaving his son, Avi, living in the care of only his aged and unwell mother.
“My life has been completely destroyed. Every time I try to sleep, the bleak future of my child flashes in front of me,” he said.
“The Home Office has wasted time all this while when my case was under reconsideration. They have taken my dignity. Everything I had put in to make a bright future for my child has been destroyed and now I am left with nothing.”
Within days of The Independent calling the Home Office regarding Mr Savaliya’s case, he was granted a visa and is now hoping to attend his father’s funeral.
In the Court of Appeal judgment in April, then home secretary Sajid Javid was criticised for assuming the applicants’ amendments to their tax records were “the result of dishonesty, without giving applicants an opportunity to proffer an innocent explanation”.
The Home Office was also ruled to be at fault for failing to address whether the dishonesty rendered the applicant’s presence in the UK “undesirable” – a question the judges said “could not simply be ignored”.
Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, said it was completely unacceptable that the Home Office was continuing to delay these cases, adding: “Those involved have been fighting for years in many cases, and they deserve a response and a full apology from the Home Office.
“So many people have been plunged into desperation and debt as a result of the Tory hostile environment and they need to be able to get on with their lives.”
Salman Faruqi, from campaign group Highly Skilled UK, said the Home Office’s “callous” approach had turned some of the most highly educated and highly skilled migrants into “paupers”, and urged the department to review all the cases so people could begin to rebuild their lives.
He added: “People who were active in doing charity are now relying on charities and food banks. Each family has already spent thousands of pounds fighting their cases in the court. Are they expected to spend thousands more?”
A Home Office spokesperson said the department would be in contact with all applicants whose legal cases were on hold as soon as possible.
The statement added: “The court agreed that the use of paragraph 322(5) is appropriate in these types of cases and that we are right to expect a full and convincing explanation from people about such glaring discrepancies. It did not say these cases should have been granted.
“Our review found that 88 per cent of applicants refused under 322(5) claimed in their visa applications that their earnings were over £10,000 a year higher than was shown by their tax records.
“We have now published new guidance which addresses the procedural issues identified by the court.”