A Government minister has said the Home Office has “no intention” of deporting undocumented ‘Windrush generation’ migrants to the UK as anger grows over the uncertain status of potentially thousands of British citizens.
An online petition calling for an amnesty for those who arrived in Britain from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean as children following the Second World War has now attracted more than 100,000 signatures and could trigger a debate in Parliament.
It comes amid reports that those who answered the call to come to the UK to work in essential services in the 1950s and 1960s are being denied access to state healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.
Church of England bishops and Caribbean diplomats have condemned the Home Office’s treatment of many long-term Commonwealth-born UK residents.
In response to the outrage, immigration minister Caroline Noakes has moved to ease the “anxiety” – and acknowledged the issue has arisen from newly-tightened immigration rules so NHS treatment and housing is available to ”only those with a legal right to live here”.
In a blog for The Voice newspaper, immigration minister Caroline Noakes wrote: “I know that there is a growing sense of anxiety among some people in the Windrush generation, who came here from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, about their immigration status here in the UK.
“These are people who have built a life here, and who in turn have made a massive contribution to the life of this country.
“I want to give them some reassurance, because we have absolutely no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here.
“The overwhelming majority of the Windrush generation already have the immigration documents they need, but some – through no fault of their own – have not.
“Those are the people we are working hard to help now.”
Writing ahead of this week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London, Noakes encouraged anyone concerned about their status to apply for “a simple card which is available from the Home Office”.
The Guardian newspaper has highlighted a number of cases of people being threatened with deportation, notably people who were born in the Caribbean and came to the UK as children in the 1950s and 60s and have never formally naturalised or applied for a British passport.
The problem stems from a decision 70 years ago to invite “British subjects” of former colonies to come to the UK to work in essential services.
Many left the Caribbean when their islands were still British colonies and considered themselves to be British.
Between 1948 and 1973, about 550,000 West Indians – or nearly 15% of the population – migrated to the UK. They were dubbed the ‘Windrush Generation’ after the ‘Empire Windrush’ ship that bought many to the UK.
If they moved to the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act, they had the right to remain.
But the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted right to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for many to now prove they are in the UK legally.
Around 50,000 who are still in the UK may not yet have regularised their residency status, according to information from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.