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‘A dizzying maze’: how the UK immigration system is geared to reject

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ONavigating the roadblocks into Britain gets ever more difficult and expensive, as government hostility leaks into every transaction.

n an industrial estate on the edge of central Birmingham, in a building nestled behind a car park and overlooking the city’s network of canals, I met a group of about 30 people who had come from all over the world but whose experiences of the UK’s immigration regime were remarkably similar. They formed a circle in the middle of the room and began talking about the problems they had faced. Overstretched lawyers and immigration specialists were on hand to offer advice.

Diana was there that night. She came from Zimbabwe and moved from a visitor visa to a student visa, before going on to marry an EU citizen. But her marriage quickly deteriorated: “I had to come out of the relationship because of domestic violence.” She says she left her partner to save her life. She knew nothing about the asylum process, but in 2013, she was told that because she feared persecution in Zimbabwe, she could apply for refugee status. Diana quickly learned how many people are “ready to mislead you”. One of her lawyers did not give her the right information about applying for asylum, which meant that, when she went to court, she did not present the relevant facts that might have helped her case. Other lawyers she paid barely gave her any time and did not go through her case properly. At each appeal, she was refused the right to stay in the country.

Some of the people in the room had struggled alone to navigate disorienting immigration rules, while others had to find a way through for their whole family. There were children of various ages – from curious babies to bored seven- or eight-year-olds. Some had been born in the country; others had migrated with their parents. What united these people was the time, effort and money – often money they did not have – they were spending to try to stay in the UK. They shared stories of being fleeced by lawyers, going into courtrooms where the people they had paid to represent them did not know even the most basic details of their case, and explained the desperation they felt when their claims were repeatedly rejected.

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