Am I British?

Panorama is the world’s longest running TV current affairs programme. First broadcast in 1953, it still has a prime-time slot and is shown throughout the world. There have been a number of notable programmes over the years exposing corruption in football, contaminated blood in the NHS, abuse in care homes and, most famously of all, the Princess Diana interview. So it is important to hear what Panorama has to say.

Saturday 8 May’s programme centred on the difficulties some people had in obtaining  ‘Right to Remain’ in the UK. Those of us with a connection to Refugee Action-Colchester will be aware of the long and demanding process that awaits asylum seekers, but this programme centred on people who have lived in the UK for 20-30 years, and who regarded themselves as British.

The program gave five examples of young people who did not realise that their status was in question until childhood ended and they suddenly found they did not enjoy the same rights as their friends.

For example, Maharaj, originally from Bangladesh and in the UK since he was 5 years old, was unaware of any issue until he was refused a Student Loan. To be fair, he was offered the opportunity to pay the fees himself, but was without access to the £30,000 a year it would have cost!

“We don’t want to be encouraging people,” said one ex-official.

The problem for Maharaj and the other young people featured was that their parents had not regularised their British status after their original visas expired.

All but one of those featured were allowed to stay because of their strong ties with the UK, but were required to follow the ’10-year route’ to gain Indefinite Leave to Remain. (Gaining citizenship takes a further 12 months.)

At this point you might be thinking “…so what’s the problem?”.

It turns out that the costs of the 10-year route are enormous. For example, every 30 months you have to pay over £1000 to maintain your application and £1600 to access NHS services, in addition to legal fees. These costs have tripled since 2015. Astonishingly, the Home Office now charges 10 times the actual processing costs because it is allowed to make a profit in order to fund other anti-immigration activities.

At the heart of the Panorama programme was the question as to why the process is so lengthy and expensive given that the Home Office has already accepted that these young people have strong ties with the UK. The answer, it seems, is the Hostile Environment. “We don’t want to be encouraging people,” said one ex-official.

I thought it was a reasonably put and informative programme, which did not invite the viewer to blame the victim as such programmes often do. The weaknesses were its length, as 28 minutes could not do justice to the issues revealed, and the absence of anyone from the Home Office to provide answers – just a retired and mild-mannered official who did not seem to think it was a big deal!

The reality is that this situation affects about 180,000 people in the UK. Presumably none of them want to move to another country they scarcely know to start a new life and must now be reflecting on the stress and expense ahead as they seek to earn the rights they had previously taken for granted.