The Home Office is facing fresh pressure after it emerged thousands of documents relating to the Windrush generation were destroyed by the department in 2010.
An ex-Home Office staffer said a horde of landing card slips recording the arrival dates of immigrants were culled in an office move, according to The Guardian.
The former employee (who asked not to be named) said this happened when the Home Office’s Whitgift Centre in Croydon was closed in October 2010, when Theresa May was home secretary.
A person’s arrival date is crucial to a citizenship application, because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain.
Officials are urgently looking into almost 50 new cases where British residents who came from the Caribbean some 70 years ago – often on their parents' passports – have been hit by changes to immigration rules.
Some have been threatened with deportation, while others have lost out on healthcare, employment and housing because they could not prove their status – despite having lived legally in the UK for decades.
Yesterday Theresa May was forced to apologise to Commonwealth leaders over the debacle, but the revelation about the destroyed landing cards – during her tenure as home secretary – has thrown the government into renewed chaos.
Labour said it was “truly shocking” that the department had binned records that could have protected immigrants – but the Home Office said the claim was misleading.
Responding to the revelation, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “The Windrush generation have been threatened with deportation because they cannot provide documents, but now we learn that the Home Office destroyed the very records that could have demonstrated their right to remain."
The anonymous former Home Office employee said managers were warned that destroying the cards could make life harder for older Caribbean-born residents struggling to prove their right to live in the UK.
But the department said it would be “misleading and inaccurate” to suggest the landing slips would be used in immigration cases.
A spokesperson insisted their destruction was “operational” and the decision taken by then UK Border Agency officials [replaced by UK Visas and Immigration in 2013] rather than May.
"Registration slips provided details of an individual's date of entry, they did not provide any reliable evidence relating to ongoing residence in the UK or their immigration status,” they said.
"So it would be misleading and inaccurate to suggest that registration slips would therefore have a bearing on immigration cases whereby Commonwealth citizens are proving residency in the UK."
Meanwhile, home secretary Amber Rudd is said to be under pressure from colleagues to get a firmer grip on her department, according to The Times.
The paper says some Brexit supporters in the Cabinet are deliberately trying to exacerbate the issue to undermine her.
One minister argued it would be “fair to say she hasn’t got her bit between her teeth in the Home Office”, while another added: “She’s a great communicator but not a great doer.
“The Windrush affair would not have happened under Theresa. Nick Timothy [May’s former chief of staff] would have been all over it.”
It follows embarrassment for Rudd last week when she said she had not seen a leaked Home Office report which appeared to link police cuts to the rise in violent crime.