The UK Guardian newspaper is reporting that, in a major reversal, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to meet representatives of 12 Caribbean countries this week to discuss the immigration problems experienced by some British residents of the Windrush generation, in an apparent U-turn on the issue.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister deeply valued the contribution of Commonwealth citizens who moved to the UK many decades ago and stressed that nobody with a right to be in the country would be made to leave.
No 10 had initially rejected a formal diplomatic request from the 12 countries, which are in London for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) this week, giving the impression that the May government was not taking a sufficiently serious approach to the problem.
There is growing unease among politicians about the situation, which has affected an unknown number of people who arrived in the UK as children, but never formally naturalised or applied for a British passport.
Downing Street’s change of heart followed the publication of a letter sent to May and signed by more than 140 MPs from across the political spectrum. The letter expressed concern about the many long-term British residents who have been incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants.
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, tweeted on Monday: “I’m deeply concerned to hear about difficulties some of the Windrush generation are facing with their immigration status. This should not happen to people who have been longstanding pillars of our community. The government is looking into this urgently.”
Downing Street said May had only become aware of the request on Monday morning and confirmed that she would be holding a meeting “at the earliest possible opportunity” with the Caribbean leaders.
A report in Sunday's issue of the Guardian newspaper said the refusal had given Caribbean diplomats the impression that the UK government was not taking a sufficiently serious approach to the problem that is affecting large numbers of long-term UK residents who came to Britain as children.
Some have been threatened with deportation to countries they left as children 50 years ago. Others have been denied access to healthcare, lost jobs or been made homeless because they do not have sufficient paperwork to prove they have the right to be in the UK.
The Guardian says Downing Street acknowledged that a request had been received from the Caribbean high commissioners and confirmed that a meeting had not been scheduled.
Although the subject is not on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting agenda, officials said there would be a number of opportunities for the heads of delegations to meet the prime minister and discuss the issue.
In response to the emerging concerns, the UK Home Office has issued a guidance summary of what Commonwealth-born, long-term UK residents should do if they were concerned that they do not have the necessary papers to prove their right to be in the United Kingdom.
The guidance acknowledges that problems are only now beginning to arise because of newly tightened immigration rules.
It said the recent changes to the law mean that persons who wish to work, rent property or have access to benefits and services in the UK will need documents to demonstrate their right to be in the country.
The Home Office said no one with the right to be in the UK will be required to leave. Charities working with people in this situation expressed frustration however that the government continues to suggest that individuals seek legal advice.
The Guardian reports there is growing awareness of the problem, which may affect thousands of people who came from Commonwealth countries as children, often travelling on their parents' passports, who have never formally naturalised.
Although anyone living in the UK continuously since before January 1,1973 is legally entitled to live there, people who have not applied for passports may struggle to prove that they are entitled to be in the United Kingdom.
Some people moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, and assumed that they were British.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University estimates that about 50,000 Commonwealth-born residents of the UK, who arrived before 1971, may not yet have regularised their residency status and could be vulnerable to these difficulties.