Home secretary Amber Rudd has said officials in her department have lost sight of the individuals affected by immigration policy decisions and pledged to take action to address the uncertainty faced by the so-called Windrush generation of Commonwealth citizens over their status.
In an unusual public criticism by a serving minister, Rudd told MPs: "I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual”. She was speaking during a parliamentary debate on the increasing concern that some people with rights to be in the UK legally have been unable to prove their status.
Cases have been raised of people who came to the UK legally as children in the 1950s and 1960s – the so-called Windrush children – facing migration issues despite having lived in the UK all their adult lives.
This is due to changes in immigration rules requiring people to provide greater proof of their right to reside in order to work, rent property or access benefits and some public services. Cases highlighted by The Guardian include Michael Braithwaite, a special needs teaching assistant who lost his job after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant because he did not have up-to-date identity documents, despite the fact he has lived in the UK for more than 50 years.
Rudd said these cases were “terrible to hear” and the Home Office was taking action to help address the problems, including by creating a dedicated team to help those affected find evidence of their rights to remain in the UK.
The team will work across departments to find the documentary evidence that government has, in a similar way to how the Home Office intends to offer settled status to EU citizens after Brexit, including looking to track information such as national insurance numbers.
Rudd said they would aim to resolve cases within two weeks where evidence had been provided.
“While the vast majority of people who came here before 1973 [when the 1971 Immigration Act came into force] will already have documentation that proves their right to be in the UK, I know that some do not. I know that there are those who have never applied for a passport in their own name or had their immigration status formalised,” she said.
“That is why today I am announcing that a new dedicated team will be set up to help those people to evidence their right to be here and to access the necessary services. The team will help the applicants to demonstrate that they are entitled to live in the UK, and it will be tasked with resolving cases within two weeks when the evidence has been provided.”
Given what Rudd called “the uniqueness of the situation this group finds itself in”, she she said she would ensure that no one in the group will have to pay for this documentation.
She added that prime minister Theresa May will today meet the Commonwealth heads of government at a summit in London, and that Rudd would also meet high commissioners this week to discuss this issue as a matter of urgency.
However, Labour MP David Lammy, who called the debate, said Rudd should apologise properly to “the thousands of British men and women who have been denied their rights in this country on her watch”.
“When my parents and others of their generation arrived in this country under the British Nationality Act 1948, they arrived here as British citizens. It is inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush generation to have suffered for so long in this condition and for the secretary of state to be making a statement on the issue only today,” he said.
In response to Lammy, Rudd said she was “not aware of any specific cases of a person being removed in these circumstances” and has asked high commissioners and others to bring details of any cases to the Home Office.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that the Home Office has been warned repeatedly about failings in its decision-making processes and called Rudd’s response “far too passive”.
“She should now be instituting a huge review, right across the Home Office, of all Windrush generation cases, and not just suspending deportations and detention, but working urgently with the Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS to make sure that nobody from that generation loses their benefits, their homes or their healthcare, while this is being sorted out,” she added,
Rudd said that the Home Office did not know the individual numbers for the Windrush generation, adding it was not clear if the estimate made by the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, that 50,000 Commonwealth-born people could be affected, was correct.
“The point I am trying to convey here, which I hope will go out from this House, is that we will help anybody who would like to have their position regularised and there will be no cost to it,” she said.