Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Pettiness of Home Office Bureaucracy

As one who lived for twenty years as a student and freelance historian in the United States, I know something of the struggle to obtain permanent residency (as a spouse) and at times felt irritation both at the bureaucratic hurdles and at the costs imposed on one whose family had contributed to the well-being of the American economy, both through tuition fees and direct financial support. I clearly didn't know when I was well-off.

It came as a considerable shock to learn of the appalling treatment meted out by the Home Office to Dr. Paul Hamilton, an American scholar who, having completed a doctorate at the University of Birmingham and while applying for fellowships with the Leverhulme and Wellcome Trusts, sought further leave to remain, for which he paid a handsome £650. Not only was this application apparently denied on December 9, but the authorities failed to inform Dr. Hamilton of this fact and had him detained at an immigration centre on January 17 on the grounds that he did not have "enough close ties (eg. family or friends) to make it likely that you will stay in one place." Dr. Hamilton had already purchased an open return ticket to the United States (worth £800) and had he been notified of the denial of his application would have made his own arrangements to depart.

The present government is only too happy to encourage "entrepreneurs" to resettle in the UK if they bring in sufficient assets, but apparently disdains a foreign academic willing to spend upwards of £100,000 of his own money to boost the resources of the British education system but who then seeks - not unreasonably - to secure a postdoctoral fellowship on the same basis as a British academic. The fact that Dr. Hamilton is a Shakespeare scholar only heightens the irony. The only official who comes out of this affair with any credit is the police sergeant at Leamington Spa who called the proceedings "completely ridiculous" and initially refused to process Dr. Hamilton.

Dr. Hamilton is clearly owed both an apology and the return of his visa processing fee as partial compensation for his mistreatment. The precedent that it sets, if this judgment is allowed to stand, is alarming for the academic community at large. I have written to the Vice-Chancellors of my home institution and the University of Birmingham, as well as to the Home Secretary (copied to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education). I hope others will be moved to do the same.

Update, January 29: Carolyn Pike (who appears to be the University of Birmingham's Director of Legal Services) informs me that "the University is not at liberty to discuss personal matters relating to alumni with third parties." I would never have imagined that one academic asking whether or not a Vice Chancellor would offer his support to another academic would provoke such a response (and from a legal officer rather than the official to whom the appeal was addressed to boot). Let us hope that this will not be another case of the "rich" getting the pleasure and the "poor" getting the blame.  

Further Update, January 29: It appears Dr. Hamilton is now a free man. Somehow one doubts that any official apology will be forthcoming.

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