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Kelly's Home Office battle

Kelly's Home Office battle

Michelle Fuller

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Kelly's Home Office battle

Moving from West Africa to Britain at the age of nine was hard enough for Kelly, but 10 years later staying here proved an even bigger crisis, when she was told she might not be able to stay in the country she considered home.

As a child arriving in the UK with her family Kelly was the youngest of the children and spoke very poor English. Her diplomat father was advised by a colleague to place the children in public schools, so they could adapt quicker to the new culture.

Kelly recalls her first weeks of starting school, “Everything was different. Seeing the Caucasian people and the kid’s Barbie doll hair, I had to hold myself back from touching it. I was observing everything, it felt like I was dreaming. 

"I remember calling my teachers auntie and uncle rather than miss and sir. Those little things were new to me…Life here was brand new I was re-learning everything.”

In those early days English was the barrier for Kelly, “I couldn’t understand what people were saying and I was bullied at first because of my accent. But it didn’t stop me from socialising and making friends.” 

In 2005 her dad returned to Nigeria leaving the family behind. What she found out later was that her parents had separated at this point. She describes herself then as, “going to school and living life as normal.”

Several years on and half-way through year-one at university the then 19 year-old’s normal life erupted into chaos. She was told by her mother they were meeting with a lawyer to be briefed for an upcoming court case. This was the first Kelly was aware of a problem and that the family could be forced to leave the UK.

At the meeting she found out her mother had applied for Indefinite Leave to Remain (Permanent Residency) in the UK for herself and her two daughters as they had been living here for 10 years. 

The Home Office turned down the application.  

“This was when I woke up from a normal life into a nightmare” recalls 26-year-old Kelly. “As a result, student finance couldn’t fund my tuition fee.  I had to drop out of University at the end of year one. I was not allowed to complete my social work degree.

"I cannot begin to express the mental stress this has caused - being made stagnant and not knowing whether you’re coming or going.”

The court ruled that Kelly qualified for permanent residency as she lived in the UK for more than half her life. However, she was refused because it was a family application and the court did not want to separate the family.

At this point Kelly decided to apply for permanent residency on her own, a  decision that led to a fall-out with her mum and being told to leave the house, “Before this happened, it was really tense and turning physical in the house because of all the stress. I left only with the clothes I was wearing.” 

After several years back and forth with the Home Office her mother and sister eventually took the case to the Upper Tribunal without her and in 2016 they were granted a two-and-a-half year visa.

By this time Kelly was 22 and had been homeless for two years, moving between friends as she awaited a reply from the Home Office to her 2015 application.  She was also required by the Home Office to report to London Bridge Enforcement every two weeks.

Kelly recalls, “I was questioned on three to four different occasions in 2016 when I went to report at London Bridge. They took my phone so I couldn’t call anyone and took me to a room in the back. They said I didn’t have any application pending on their system.

"Thankfully I always carry a copy of the application with me when I go there and I had the receipt of when it was posted by recorded delivery. If I didn’t have copies with me I would have probably been sent to detention.”

Another year passed without a reply from the Home Office. Told by London Bridge Enforcement that her application was not on their system she became scared and approached her solicitor. She was advised to chase the Home Office herself because the fee to write a letter on her behalf was £400. 

She phoned Home Office many times and was always told her application was pending.  In early 2017 she approached her solicitor again and was advised to make a new permanent residency application.  Through the help of friends and church she raised the solicitor’s fee of £1,800 and the Home Office application fee of almost £1,000.

In June 2017 her MP wrote to the Home Office on her behalf. Kelly received a reply two weeks later, saying that both applications, made in 2015 and 2017, were refused and that she could appeal. 

Though in 2011 the court had said that Kelly qualified for permanent residency, in 2017 the Home Office refused her application on the grounds that she did not qualify under the 10 years continuous lawful residence rule. The Home Office argued that her passport shows a stamp in 2006-2007 indicating she was out of the country for a year when she was 13 to 14 years old.

To prove that she did not leave the country Kelly provided the Home Office with letters from teachers and school registers. 

Kelly says, the Home Office wants her to take responsibility for the stamps in her passport, which she refused to do because she provided evidence that she never left the UK. She claims that from the time she came to the UK until she was 19 her parents had handled matters with the Home Office.

Kelly refers to her situation with the Home Office as a six year battle. “It’s been a rollercoaster and a well of emotions. Some days are bearable. Other days it’s like the end of the world.”

Since her most recent refusal - and as she waits to attend her hearing in June - she has been unable to stay with friends and is being provided accommodation by a charity. She also has a new solicitor.  

To stay positive and “maintain my sanity…  I try to be around positive people and volunteer as a mentor in church to support the young people.

“Now that I have stable accommodation, a court date and a new solicitor I can see an end result, a future.  I think about going back to finish my social work degree, whereas before I was just waiting for whenever to get a reply from the HO…It could have been another 10 years.

“This situation is not my bus stop. I am not there yet, but I am not where I was. I have a future, I am going somewhere.”

• Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals mentioned in this article


Helpful links and information:
Not enough attention to the needs of young people in UK immigration detention 

The Children’s Society

Hackney Migrant Centre (Free Advice for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Recent Migrants)

Praxis Community Projects (Advice and information e.g. Housing & Immigration)