The recent immigration furore shows the imperative need to keep absolutely everything - especially documentation related to residency, writes Sophie Wettern
Those of you who read the papers will be aware of last week’s big political story, the scandal surrounding the 'Windrush generation' immigrants. The issue concerns individuals who came to the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971, labelled the 'Windrush generation' after the ship MV Empire Windrush which brought passengers to the UK in June 1948. Although granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK under the 1971 Immigration Act, many were not issued with any documents confirming their right to stay in the UK and have recently found their residency status called into question.
Those of you who have been following the story will be aware of the furore surrounding the destruction of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrivals in the UK in 2010. The government has now apologised and agreed to waive the fee for anyone who wants to stay in the UK and can provide documents demonstrating long residence here. Putting to one side the emotive aspects of this particular story, one significant element to the scandal (in my view) is the sheer amount of documentation that people are expected to producein order to apply for immigration status.
In an increasingly online world, many of us now access our bank accounts online, receive utility bills and credit card statements by email, and even access virtual medical care (NHS Direct anyone?). Unfortunately, the world of immigration has yet to catch up.
For an application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, for which one may be eligible after five years of living here, an applicant may be expected to provide numerous documents demonstrating proof of residence for each year. For the hoarders among us, this may be easy. I don’t know about you, however, but I tend not to keep my electricity bill from January 2014 just in case I might need to refer to it in the future…
European nationals don’t have it any easier. Although the Home Office has promised a smooth transition following the post-Brexit “transition period”, depending on their personal circumstances, those who wish to apply for a document certifying permanent residence (now a pre-requisite for an application for British citizenship by a European national) at this stage may be required, for example, to dig out their appointment card from that visit they took to the doctor three and a half years ago, to help to prove how long they have lived here.
Perhaps the more pressing issue is that applicants are required to provide “original” documents, rather than photocopies. One can understand the reasoning behind this, but it does make collating the necessary documentation more complicated when you have (rather too efficiently) requested paperless invoices from your water supplier.
So what can you do to make the process easier? Well, apart from planning ahead by retaining documents and information that may be relevant to demonstrate the length of your residence, there are other ways round the issue. For example, if you have been registered with a doctor or dentist throughout your period of residence in the UK, you could ask them to provide a letter confirming the dates of your visits and the address that they have held for you throughout that period.
The real lesson of this story? Don’t throw anything away – you might need it in 30 years’ time!
Sophie Wettern is an associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner