A respected academic has won his fight against deportation on the ground that his bank balance fell below £800.
This is the sort of story that the tabloids would love if it was about a sturdy British fight against a barmy EU directive or health and safety regulation. But because it’s about an outspoken Muslim academic’s fight against the homegrown petty bureaucracy of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), it’s unlikely to get any headlines in the Daily Mail, the Express or the Telegraph. Dr Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a respected academic and prolific freelance writer whose topics include drone attacks, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the construction of fear in the war on terror. After finishing a doctorate at Strathclyde University and lecturing part-time in media studies, he was offered a post as a lecturer at De Montfort University in Leicester, on a salary of £35,000. Applying under the points-based system for a work visa to enable him to take up the post, he obtained all the requisite points for qualifications and English language proficiency.
But, the immigration rules require applicants to show that they will be self-sufficient and not use British benefits. Fair enough. But the way they must prove their self-sufficiency is to provide bank statements showing that in the three months before the application, their bank balance never slipped below £800. And Dr Idrees’s bank balance, which stood at £1500 when he applied, had been below the magic £800 mark for some time during the previous three months because of late payments for journalistic work. So although there is no doubt about his ability to support himself – he is better off now than he was as a student, and he has never needed to claim benefits – the UKBA refused the visa.
In a campaign supported by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), more than fifty academics wrote to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond and to home secretary Theresa May to protest the red tape and urge them to allow Dr Idrees to pursue his academic career in the UK. Many attended his appeal on 23 January in Glasgow, where the Tribunal allowed the appeal immediately. But the UKBA indicated that it might appeal the Tribunal’s decision, on the ground that the evidence he submitted did not meet the mandatory requirements of the rule. Its officials appear incapable of realising the injustice caused by so rigid an application of the self-sufficiency requirement.
According to the Scotsman, which covered the story, two firms of lawyers he consulted for advice told him not to waste his money on legal fees as he was bound to lose the appeal. Dr Idrees’ case is by no means unique. Refusal of a visa on this ground is common, particularly for those applying from abroad. One applicant was refused after his account fell below £800 by just £1. Those refused visas abroad don’t even get a right of appeal. Some see the rigid rule as a devious way of cutting migrant numbers, a rash pledge made in the early days of the coalition government and proving more difficult than anticipated.