LONDON – Immigrants from the Caribbean who are included in the so-called Windrush generation – the generation who arrived in the United Kingdom before 1973 – will be eligible for free citizenship, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.
The offer, which will be available to people from all Commonwealth countries, will extend to individuals who have no current documentation, those who already have leave to remain and want to advance their status, and children of the Windrush generation.
The announcement came as immigrants, many from the Caribbean, were threatened with deportation, with some detained and denied access to health care and benefits. Many of them have been in the country so long that they assumed they would never need to present documentation to prove they were in the UK, but many of the original landing documents – which in many cases was needed to prove an individual’s citizenship status – had been destroyed by the Home Office in 2009.
In addition to offering citizenship, Rudd confirmed that a compensation scheme will be set up for individuals who have suffered loss or damage because of their inability to evidence their right to be in the UK and to access services. The Home Office said it will be engaging with stakeholders on the scope of the compensation on offer and appointing an independent adviser to oversee the scheme.
A new customer contact centre will also be set up to make sure that anyone struggling to navigate the many different immigration routes can speak to a person and get appropriate advice. The centre will be staffed by experienced caseworkers who will offer expert advice and identify a systemic problem much more quickly in the future.
The Windrush generation was named after the ship that brought the first 492 passengers from Jamaica, Trinidad and other islands to Britain in 1948. A total of 500,000 workers and their families were eventually invited to the UK from former colonies and granted citizenship as subjects of the empire, to help rebuild the country after World War II.
“The contribution of the Windrush generation and their right to be in the UK is in no doubt and I deeply regret the situation that has arisen,” Rudd said.
“It is only right that the significant contribution the Windrush generation have made to the UK is recognized. That is why I want to ensure they can acquire the status they deserve – British citizenship – quickly, at no cost and with proactive assistance through the process. It is also why I want to make sure we set up a compensation scheme that works in the best interests of those affected.”
The Home Secretary said she hoped the measures would begin to reassure people as to their position and their valued status in this country.
As well as not having to pay the fees associated with a citizenship application, people in these circumstances will not be required to pass the normal Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK test.
People who arrived in the country between 1973 and 1988 will also be supported to access the most suitable route to regularize their status. In order to establish which route is most suitable, people in this group will be able to take advantage of the new dedicated team which has been set up to help people confirm their status and will be given a decision on their application within two weeks of the necessary evidence being collected.
In addition, extra measures will be introduced to help those who arrived before 1973, spent their life in the UK and are now having difficulty returning either for a visit or to reside. The Home Office said it will help to facilitate their return on the most suitable route and waive any associated fees.