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'I feel like I'm drowning': healthcare inspector faces deportation by Home Office

Posted on 9/05/2018 by


Officials brand skilled worker and mother of three ‘risk to national security’ after minor tax amendment

A former inspector for a health and social care regulator is facing deportation by the Home Office over a minor tax amendment which, they say, has made her a risk to national security.

Vee Matu is one of at least 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK who are facing deportation because of the application of the controversial section 322(5) of the Immigration Act.

The section is designed to tackle criminals and those judged to be a threat to national security, but highly skilled workers are being refused ILR on the grounds of so-called bad character and conduct, after being accused of making minor and legal amendments to their tax records, or having discrepancies in declared income.

Matu, not her real name, has not slept in her bed since 19 April, when the Home Office said it would deport her.

“The stories I hear about when the enforcement teams come are too terrifying. I don’t want to be dragged out of my house from my bed in the middle of the night,” she said. “So I sit, fully dressed in the lounge all night. I have a bag packed and I sit, waiting for the knock on the door.

“But when I sit, it feels like I’m drowning. My anxiety levels have spiked. I feel I am losing my mind. I’m trying to remain focused, but I feel I am losing my will to live.”

Matu came to the UK from Zimbabwe in 2007, aged 35, after winning a British Council Chevening scholarship, sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to study for an MSc in corporate governance and business ethics at Birkbeck College in London.

“That alone shows a good character,” she said. “I underwent a rigorous and robust selection process by the British embassy.”

In the 11 years that Matu has lived in the UK with her children, aged 12, 16 and 23, she has paid £27,315 in visa costs and legal fees in efforts to regularise her status. To fund those costs, while bringing up her children as a single mother without recourse to public funds, she has never worked fewer than two jobs. She has held management posts at three London local authorities, various roles in care homes, cleaning jobs and is the director of a limited company she set up in 2010.

Until her right to work was removed last month, Matu was an inspector for a health and social care regulator. Her manager has told the Home Office, in a character reference letter the Guardian has seen, that it would be a “great loss” to [her employer] if someone with her exemplary “attitude and commitment to her role were to leave”.

“I have been a role model while living in the UK because I feel that, as a migrant, you have to put more than 100% into your new country and that’s what I have done,” she said.

As well as her professional commitments and her children, she has been a governor and volunteer at an inner London school for the past nine years, sitting on three committees. She has run three marathons for charity, volunteers at Crisis at Christmas, makes regular donations in support of London school development campaigns, has helped to set up Arthritis Care Africa Foundation in Africa, and regularly attends her local church.

Through what she describes as sheer hard work and determination, Matu had saved enough money by 2012 to buy a house in London. “I did it because I knew that I was here to stay,” she said.

Her time here hasn’t been easy. In 2010 she was raped. She reported the incident to the police but didn’t press formal charges for fear she would lose her job, forcing her to breach her visa conditions by turning to the state for support for rent, social housing or childcare. Other victims of her aggressor did press charges, however. In 2010, he was sentenced to 15 years in December 2010 for multiple charges of rape.

With no family to help her, Matu turned to her local rape and sexual abuse support centre, where she received counselling and help to find other employment. It was during this period that Matu made the mistake in her tax return.

“It was my fault,” she admitted. “I made a mistake on my tax return because I had so many pressures in my life at that point.”

She didn’t realise the mistake until 2016, when she was preparing to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). “As an immigrant and responsible citizen, it is difficult to keep up with the changes in the requirements of the Home Office,” she said.

“This got me reviewing on a regular basis all the documentary evidence I had and regulatory changes in my visa category pending my application to the Home Office. I identified the oversight and took action to rectify the tax issue. HMRCaccepted my amended tax returns and I paid the outstanding taxes of £3,315 including interest, but no fines.

“There was no criminal case ever raised against me by the HMRC, nor was I subject to an investigation or blacklisting because of my mistake,” she said. “The decision of the Home Office to refuse me a visa because of the tax error that I identified myself, and corrected, is clearly disproportionate. Why would I put my life at stake for that sum? It was a genuine error that I made good on as soon as I realised it.”

A few months later, Matu applied for ILR as a highly skilled migrant. After 19 months, the Home Office rejected her application, highlighting her tax amendment and citing section 322(5).

“Without explanation the letter tells me my character is so undesirable that it puts me in the same category as criminals or terrorists who have to be deported for their crimes,” she said. “I have served the UK with pride as a citizen of a former British colony and have been a good ambassador for the brand Great Britain. The refusal reasons would bar me from successfully applying for visas to reside elsewhere in Europe or the USA or North America.

“I am very grateful for the hospitality of the British people and have never abused that. It is hard to imagine that I would willingly deceive the country that has provided me with opportunities for a better life.”

Matu submitted a request for an administrative review, which was rejected on 18 April in a letter giving her seven days to leave the country, after which date it said she would be detained or deported.

“When I read the letter, and reread it, I realised that I was no longer welcome in the UK,” she said. .

Matu has spent all her savings on legal advice and now she has lost her right to work, she is struggling to afford further legal representation, as well as paying her mortgage and bills. “I have always been in employment. I have never defaulted on any bill, but I am hysterical on how to finance my next month’s livelihood if I am spared removal or deportation. Just relying on handouts from my community and people who earn far less than what I got from the job I have had to literally abandon, is heartbreaking.”

With the help of friends and her community, Matu submitted a pre-action protocol letter to the Home Office on 3 May, saying that unless they reconsider their decision in favour of her application in the next 14 days, she will seek a judicial review. She doesn’t, however, know how she will pay for it.

Source: TheGuardian