Three key events exacerbated the Windrush immigrants’ predicament.
I. Anyone who had arrived in the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973 was granted an automatic right permanently to remain, unless they left the UK for more than two years and since the right was automatic, many people in this category were never given, or asked to provide, documentary evidence of their right to remain at the time or over the next forty years, during which, many continued to live and work in the UK, believing themselves to be British.
II. The “hostile environment” policy, which came into effect in October 2010 introduced measures which included a legal requirement for landlords, employers. the NHS, charities, community interest companies and banks to carry out ID checks and to refuse services if the individual is unable to prove legal residence in the UK and, if they failed to comply, they are liable to fines of up to £10,000. In addition, the policy coincided with sharp increases in Home Office fees for processing “leave to remain” (£3,250), naturalisation (£1,330) and registration of citizenship applications (£1,000).
III. The only official records of the arrival of many “Windrush” immigrants in the 1950s through to 1970s were landing cards collected as they disembarked from ships in UK ports and in subsequent decades, these cards were routinely used by British immigration officials to verify dates of arrival for borderline immigration cases. In 2010 the landing cards were destroyed despite prior warnings of the problems this would cause for some immigrants who had no other record of their arrival.
The Home Office received warnings as early as 2013, that many Windrush generation residents were being wrongly treated as illegal immigrants and that older Caribbean born people were being threatened with deportation if they could not prove their right to remain in the UK. Letters were received telling them that they had no right to be in the UK, some of whom were told to arrange to leave the UK at once and as they were considered illegal, sometimes they were:
a. losing their jobs or homes as a consequence of having benefits stopped
b. refused medical care under the NHS
c. placed in detention centres as preparation for their deportation
d. deported or refused the right to return to the UK from aboard
In addition, adults born in the UK, whose parents were ‘Windrush’ immigrants, were threatened with deportation because they were unable to prove that their parents were legally in the UK at the time of their birth.
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