Tue | Jul 23, 2024

38-yr battle to stay in UK

Ailing Jamaican relieved as he is allowed to remain in Britain after ‘nightmare’ years trying to get status regularised

Published:Thursday | June 13, 2024 | 12:10 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Dennis Henry
Dennis Henry

Thirty-eight years after struggling to secure his immigration status in the United Kingdom (UK), the British Home Office has granted Jamaican Dennis Henry leave to remain in the country.

However, he will have to wait 10 additional years – renewing his visa every two years – before being eligible to apply for citizenship.

He is 61 years old and battling prostate cancer.

Henry, a former resident of Denham Town in the gritty West Kingston garrison, travelled to the UK in 1986 to visit family on a six-month visa. He was 23 years old at the time.

He said life was rough and his parents beseeched him not to return to Jamaica. His father had spent a great deal for his visa and ticket, his mother had reminded him. She told him that there was nothing to return to.

Heeding those words, Henry said he reluctantly remained in the frigid country where immigration laws often proved unfriendly and complex. His mother told him that his family would guide him.

A month in hospital

He was to stay with his sister and aunt initially but said relations grew sour, and he soon found himself out in the cold on the streets of London.

Not long after, he was lying on a hospital bed, where he remained for a month, having been attacked and beaten by a group of men he ran into trouble with.

He suffered a head injury, he told The Gleaner, but discharged himself on the basis that he could not bear to remain hospitalised any longer.

“So I was out, confused and lost, with a head injury. I didn’t know what to do. There was no one there to guide me. No one to say, ‘Get an extension’. I was living rough, and I just lost my way. You don’t just go around telling people about your immigration status,” Henry said.

“It was a nightmare. Most of my life was a nightmare,” he recalled.

Still, his mother insisted on him not returning to Jamaica. He admitted that he had not informed her of his head injury or his struggle with family.

Matters were compounded when fire destroyed the place where he found refuge with his younger cousin. He lost his passport in that incident.

He said, as a result, the Citizens Advice Bureaux was not able to assist. Henry said he needed to provide a record of his arrival in the UK to the Home Office and he could not.

“The Home Office had proof of how I came to the country but they withheld it from me,” he said.

With an irregular status and nowhere to turn, he said he worked off the books as a painter, a skill he had learnt from his father.

Henry said he was often exploited and underpaid because employers knew about his status.

“You either take it or leave it, they would tell me,” Henry recalled.

He said years passed, with him continuously looking over his shoulder, avoiding immigration and working at reduced rates.

He said it was a stressful period that brought on depression.

“Sickness came on, and it’s like my soul gave up. I didn’t have the strength to continue. I just said, ‘Whatever happens, happen’. It was a nightmare,” he said, disclosing that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018.

He underwent surgery but relapsed in 2020 and is currently being treated.

Henry said that, after years of failed attempts with lawyers to get his status regularised, research and investigation led him to MTC Solicitors, a law firm in London that worked to change his status.

On June 3, the Home Office granted the father of three leave to remain.

“I feel like a brand-new child. Every day I get a new emotion of happiness. I feel tired, like working for years and never getting rest, and now I’m getting rest. All I want to do is just sleep. My lawyer Naga [Kandiah] was very assuring. He delivered,” Henry said, praising the lawyer as well his sister, with whom he has mended fences.

“Our client, who arrived in the UK in 1986 at the age of 23, has been finally granted permission to stay. After a 38-year battle, he will still only be eligible for citizenship after 10 years. This means he will be able to apply for citizenship in 2035, when he will be in his 70s,” said Kandiah, the human rights and public law solicitor who worked on Henry’s case.

“Our client suffered from prostate cancer, both his parents passed away, and he could not attend their funerals, and one of his children passed away and yet he could do nothing. He felt he had been living in a cage, and finally, he has been set free,” he added.

He said the Home Office had a natural distrust of Henry and refused to believe his position, which limited his access to much-needed healthcare.

“Although we are a small firm with little resources, we felt compelled to help on a pro bono as we could not leave someone in such limbo who had been suffering for such a long time. As solicitors, we had to push against the Home Office on this policy, which, sadly, still affects many of those left behind in the Windrush Scandal,” Kandiah said.