Home Office must change its overall attitude to immigrants to this country

Home Secretary Sajid Javid needs to change the culture at his department's immigration section. Pict

Home Secretary Sajid Javid needs to change the culture at his department's immigration section. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The fact that some pen-pushers at the Home Office decided that former Ipswich mayor Inga Lockington had not done enough to prove that she was worthy of UK citizenship came as a shock – but not a total surprise.

Inga Lockington with her letter from the Home Office and her Danish passport from the 1970s

Inga Lockington with her letter from the Home Office and her Danish passport from the 1970s Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Because when you look at what has happened in the immigration departments of the Home Office over the last decade, and especially over the last few weeks, it is clear that the anti-immigrant sentiment that has always existed in some elements of British society has been allowed to influence the way it operates.

I am not saying that those who implement immigration policies are necessarily anti-immigrant in themselves – but I do suspect that they have allowed the way they put those policies into practice has been influenced by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of some politicians and some national newspapers.

This is not a party political issue. The first attempts to create a “hostile atmosphere” at the Home Office came under Labour Home Secretaries – but were maintained when Theresa May took over in 2010.

It was under Labour that we had the ridiculous charade of a asylum seeker who arrived in Ipswich as a child from Afghanistan being flown back to Asia so he could make a formal application for British residence – flying back to Britain 48 hours later!

It was under Mrs May’s watch that the Home Office sent out poster lorries urging illegal immigrants to “go home.”

The problem was with such megaphone treatment of the issue, far too many people overlooked the word “illegal” and saw this as an indication that anyone who did not have generations of British heritage were not welcome in this country.

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What worries Mrs Lockington is that despite the UK government saying that existing EU citizens will have the right to remain in this country following Brexit, the obstacles being put in their way are so high and difficult to overcome – and officials are too intransigent and probably too overwhelmed to be able to help applicants through.

Mrs Lockington was given different advice by different officials about the validity of her entry stamp for indefinite leave to remain that was granted when she arrived in Britain as a newly-wed in 1979.

That contributed to her making a failed bid for UK citizenship – an exercise that cost her £1,200 (the Home Office in their infinite generosity gave her back the £80 cost of attending a citizenship ceremony).

That’s a large sum for anyone. Imagine what nearly £1,300 means to a waiter from Hungary or a hospital porter from Portugal.

Because the fact is that the vast majority of people who have moved to the UK, whether you call them immigrants or whatever, are working hard for the British economy.

In many cases they are doing hugely valuable jobs, especially in the health service.

We now have the ridiculous situation where the Home Office is trying to restrict the number of recently-qualified doctors who come to the UK to finish their studies while performing a valuable service for the NHS – a service that there are not enough UK doctors to fulfil.

I know Mrs Lockington was initially reluctant to make a fuss about her situation because she did not want to be considered a “special case” but decided to go public to show how difficult the Home Office rules can make life for people who live in this country perfectly legally.

After 39 years in this country and 19 as a country she knows how Britain “works” – but still fell foul of Home Office regulations and “advice.”

It really does follow that if that can lead Inga Lockington to have her citizenship application turned down, it could lead to anyone from the EU having their citizenship application turned down.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid needs to totally change the culture that exists in immigration offices of his department. He has to get rid of this assumption that everyone who applies to live here and become British is a potential burden to the country – the Home Office needs to regard immigrants as bringing something to the country.

Of course changing society will be even more difficult. When I heard someone blaming immigration for the traffic on Felixstowe Road last week my hackles did start to rise somewhat!

But that’s another story – for now it’s the Home Office which needs to take a more reasonable view of immigration – to avoid any more Inga Lockington situations.

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