UK academics up in arms after Home Department asks researcher to return to India

Dr Asiya Islam, 31, is a junior research fellow in the Cambridge sociology department. (Photo: Twitter/@asiyaislam)

More than 250 academics have signed an open letter to the UK Home Office after it denied an Indian researcher indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK.

Dr Asiya Islam, 31, is a junior research fellow in the Cambridge sociology department. Her request to stay on in the UK was rejected last week on the grounds that she had spent more time than allowed outside the country. Dr Islam, however, says the time was spent doing fieldwork in India for her PhD on ‘Gender, Class, and Labour in the New Economy of Urban India'.

"I provided several letters to present the case that fieldwork is a crucial aspect of my work and should not count towards my days out of the country. But nope, apparently I “failed to provide any exceptional reasons in support of your out of time application”," Dr Islam tweeted.

Those speaking out in her support now claim she is a highly respected academician, and her work being interrupted by the Home Office's decision may propel foreign researchers to stay away from the UK.

“Dr Asiya Islam is a highly valued member of the research community at Newnham College and the University of Cambridge. Dr Islam has an impressive academic record: she was a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, was awarded the best degree performance award at the London School of Economics, and received the Dr Zakir Hussain medal for academic excellence from Aligarh Muslim University,” PTI quoted a spokesperson for Newnham College as saying.

The open letter written for her urges the Home Office to reconsider its decision and calls on Home Secretary Priti Patel for “appropriate discretion” in deciding her application.

“Her case is distressing, but it also sends a foreboding signal that despite policy changes to protect Tier 2 researchers, UK universities will continue to lose the talented PhD researchers that they have invested years in training,” the open letter states.

While rejecting her application, the Home Office told her that since she was only 31 years old, she could “reintegrate back into life and society in India", and "re-establish a private life and form new friendships".

Islam is now planning to appeal against the Home Office's decision.

An ILR application under the Tier 4 student visa category is normally turned down if an individual has been out of the UK for more than 540 days over the course of 10 years.