Some people would call Pauline an illegal immigrant. It’s true that she has no immigration status, no legal right to be in the UK, so I suppose she ticks that box. However, I very much doubt that when most people spit out the term “illegal immigrant” that they are thinking of someone like Pauline.
A neatly dressed woman in her early sixties, when she attends my office Pauline gives me a number of letters from community organisations, each attesting to her dedicated voluntary work, praising her for going above and beyond when it comes to helping those in need. However, her anxiety seeps through as she recounts her story, her voice often sinking to a whisper as she tells me about her life. There are some bits that she just can’t bring herself to talk about at all and it is only some time afterwards, when I receive a copy of her file from the Home Office that I really begin to understand it all properly.
Pauline first came to the UK from Jamaica in 2002. The first seven years of her immigration file read like a manual of instruction for well-behaved immigrants: a number of in-time applications for further leave to remain, first as a student, and then finally as the spouse of a British citizen, each duly granted.
Then, in 2009, it all imploded. Having married and been granted leave to remain as the spouse of a British citizen, Pauline made an application for further leave to remain. She might have qualified for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) but at the time of application she hadn’t yet passed the Life in the UK test, which was an obligatory condition for a grant of ILR. She did, however, pass the test two weeks later. The Home Office noting this, wrote to her giving her an opportunity to vary the application to an application for ILR, sending her the application form and giving her 28 days to respond.
I don’t know how many of you have ever completed a paper application form for ILR. At that time the form was around 28 pages in length. Some sections could be skipped over for some applicants, but you had to be very careful to complete all the sections that applied to you. A failure to complete a relevant question could result in refusal of your application and loss of your application fee. Even for someone who dealt with such forms regularly it would take quite a time to complete the form and to put it together with all the necessary supporting documents for submission. Pauline completed the application form without any legal help and returned it to the Home Office. The next Home Office file note states “the application falls for rejection as the applicant has not fully completed the criminal convictions section of the application form”.
In 2009, if an applicant failed to provide the Home Office with all the necessary information in their application, there was almost never any effort made by the Home Office to request that information, the application was simply refused. Between 2002 and 2009 Pauline had made six successful applications to the Home Office, all properly completed, none of which had disclosed any criminal convictions. And yet, the Home Office carried out no checks before refusal of the application for ILR to confirm whether or not Pauline had any criminal convictions, nor they did not write to her requesting that she complete the missed section. They just refused the application. Pauline had failed to tick a box and so her leave to remain in the UK ended.
Following this refusal Pauline struggled for several years to get her status back. Unfortunately her marriage had recently ended and she failed to fit into the box for any other type of application, so each application she made was refused.
Then, one day in 2012, Immigration Officers and police officers turned up at Pauline’s home and took her into immigration detention.
Pauline was not able to tell me anything about her time in immigration detention. All of the information I have comes from the sparse notes in the Home Office file. Pauline was sent to Yarl’s Wood IRC and, after a week in detention, the Home Office attempted to remove Pauline from the UK.
Reading through the Home Office file notes, there is a change in language. Up until this point the notes referred to Pauline as “the app”, the applicant, but at this stage it starts to refer to her as “the subject” or “sub”. The notes then go through a series of bureaucratic boxes ticked – documents served, forms signed and faxed or filed. Nothing comes through in this dry text to suggest that at the centre of all this box ticking is a fifty year old woman in distress.
A file note from 8am on the day of the intended removal notes that “sub is refusing to leave the holding room for RDs [Removal Directions]”. A further two and a half hours later it is noted that fresh representations had been submitted by Pauline’s representatives and therefore the removal will have to be cancelled for the time being. I imagine the bits that the notes don’t tell about what happened during those two and a half hours; Pauline’s fear and desperation when the officers came to take her to the airport, her tears and stubborn refusal to move, the reasoning, cajolements, threats, that probably ensued, then, finally, the reprieve. Pauline was not yet released from detention, however, but remained in the IRC for a further 3 weeks before she was finally allowed to leave.
Pauline does tell me about her current situation. She is entirely reliant on friends for financial support and her voice trembles with humiliation as she tells me how she has to beg them to help her Rising costs of living bring her the double problem of her own costs increasing while her supporters also start to feel the pinch of their own increased expenses. Pauline is reaching the end of her tether and doesn’t know how much longer she can carry on.
I am able to give Pauline some good news, the first she has had in some time. There is an application that I can make for her which I am confident will get her leave to remain. She has now been in the UK for over 20 years and so meets the long residence criteria. She has excellent evidence of her time in the UK, has no remaining ties with Jamaica and is clearly a person of good character. To put it another way, she ticks all the right boxes.