The Home Office is facing fresh questions about its immigration policies after it emerged that a Commonwealth citizen caught up in the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion now faces a battle to stay in the country – despite his company wanting him to stay on.
Carillion went into liquidation in January after it was unable to pay its debts, leading to emergency plans being put in place to protect public services.
Civil Service World’s sister site PoliticsHome has learned that one former worker who managed to keep his job when another firm took over Carillion’s contracts was blocked from working by the Home Office just weeks later, and there are fears more could be affected.
Members of parliament's Home Affairs Committee have told this site they are concerned that "scores" of ex-Carillion staff could face a similar fate – with one branding the situation “callous, inequitable and unthinking” and another calling it “a Kafka-esque nightmare of the government’s own creation”.
The concerns centre around the case of 24-year-old Hamza Idris, who has called Britain his home since 2011 when he moved to the UK from the Commonwealth country of Nigeria to study engineering.
After graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Birmingham in 2016 Idris landed a dream job on Carillion's prestigious graduate scheme. But just weeks after a pre-Christmas promotion that saw him move to London, Idris’s fate was left hanging in the balance when Carillion filed for compulsory liquidation.
While Idris and his colleagues were fortunate enough to be transferred to a new company that took on Carillion's work, he says he was pulled aside by his boss shortly after the transfer and reluctantly told he could no longer work because the Home Office had demanded he reapply for his Tier 2 immigration status.
He told PoliticsHome: “I just remember calling my best friend and saying, ‘It’s happened again. Carillion went into liquidation and my world crashed. And then we got picked up by another company – and now the Home Office won’t let me transfer’.”
"No right of appeal"
The move came despite Idris doing effectively the same job, earning the same salary, and working with the same colleagues as he had before the firm went into liquidation.
A Home Office letter seen by PoliticsHome makes clear Idris has until June 16 to leave the country or lodge a fresh application to remain in the UK – a move that could cost him more than £1,000 in order to meet the tight deadline. The letter adds: “You do not have a right of appeal against this decision.”
Idris – who told PoliticsHome that he was made to hand over his company laptop, phone and pass and has been unable to earn anything since March – has now been forced to move back to Birmingham and run down his savings to meet living costs.
He said his new employer has been supportive and kept his role vacant, yet separate Home Office rules mean that his position may have to be openly advertised to ensure "there are no suitable workers already living permanently in the UK" who could take his place.
There is therefore no guarantee Idris will be able to continue to work, despite his employer wanting him to stay on.
He said: “Why should my job be taken away from me? Why should it be given to someone else after I’ve worked hard for it? After I’ve laid the foundations and put in all the work – gone to uni, done all this. They don’t see the work behind that. All they see is, I’m here, the company collapsed, so I can’t have that job anymore.”
MPs on the Home Affairs Committee told PoliticsHome that they intend to quiz ministers on whether any more ex-Carillion staff who have managed to secure new work are now being told to make plans to leave the UK.
One committee member John Woodcock said he believed “scores, if not hundreds” of former employees could have been similarly affected, describing it as “an appalling situation”.
“The term ‘Kafka-esque’ can be over-used in politics but this is truly a Kafka-esque nightmare of the government’s own creation," he said.
“The worst thing is that the catastrophes of recent weeks show that this is by no means a one-off. This is the lived reality of many thousands of citizens who have tried to do the right thing all their lives. They’ve gone to work. They’ve paid their taxes. They’ve been decent citizens. And now they are left to fear for their livelihoods, not knowing where to turn."
Labour MP and fellow committee member Stephen Doughty criticised “the callous, inequitable and unthinking way the Home Office treats individuals thanks to the hostile environment and cuts”.
He added: “For a highly skilled individual contributing to our economy to be caught up by no fault of their own in the Carillion shambles, be offered a replacement role and sponsorship, but then be apparently denied that job by Home Office bureaucracy is yet another example of the ‘computer says no’ approach that pervades the Home Office at every level. Where is the common sense, let alone the decency?”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told PoliticsHome: “This is where Theresa May’s policy leads. This is her ‘hostile environment’ policy in action, and it must end.”
PoliticsHome asked the Home Office whether it was aware of any other former Carillion employees who had secured work but been issued with similar letters.
The department was also asked what support it had in place for people in similar circumstances, or whether any discretion could apply if people had not been properly transferred before the firm’s collapse.
In a statement, the Home Office said: "Where a person's sponsor has ceased trading it is necessary for them to make a fresh application for sponsorship through another employer.”
The department did not respond to a series of follow-up questions.
When Idris's then-local MP raised the case with UK Visas and Immigration earlier this year, the MP was told that the former Carillion employee's sponsorship could not be automatically transferred to his new employer "as Carillion no longer exists".
It added: "The Home Office has no discretion as both companies have to be licensed and fully active and unfortunately Carillion is not."
At the time of publication, ‘Carillion plc’ was still listed on the Home Office’s roster of employers who can grant Tier 2 sponsorship to stay in the UK – leaving Idris confused about who to contact as he struggles to resolve the situation.
The former Carillion worker told PoliticsHome that he feels lucky to have supportive colleagues and friends as his battle to stay in the UK continues.
But, with the clock now ticking, he fears his own case may be just the tip of the iceberg.
“Politicians are put in power to help people,” Idris said. “And sometimes they forget that there are human beings that are affected by the consequences of their decisions.
“To the prime minister and to the home secretary, I would just say, have compassion. It feels like the simplest thing, but honestly, it’s all we are given in this world.”