An American who recently graduated from the University of Birmingham with a PhD has spoken of his shock at being locked up in an immigration removal centre after being refused permission to remain in the UK to work as a researcher.
Shakespeare scholar Paul Hamilton, who spoke to Times Higher Education from a cell at Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre in Lincolnshire, said that he had followed rules requiring him to apply for leave to remain within 10 days of the expiry of his visa. Applications cost £650.
Asked what was the first sign that something had gone wrong with the application, he said: “When they [immigration officials] knocked on my door and told me they were arresting me.”
Dr Hamilton, who graduated from Birmingham in July 2015 after completing a doctorate on Shakespeare’s influence on American literature in the 19th century, was detained on 17 January after immigration officials visited his home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
He was eventually released on 27 January, but must still leave the country.
He said: “All they had to do was serve me papers and say: ‘I’m sorry your application was rejected – you need to leave the country.’ But to be arrested is just unbelievable.”
It had been “absolutely heartbreaking to be arrested and thrown into a cage…in the back of a police vehicle in front of my neighbours”, he added.
Dr Hamilton was taken to Leamington Spa police station. “The sergeant there refused to process me because he said this was completely ridiculous. And he got into an argument with the immigration officer that went on the entire afternoon,” Dr Hamilton said.
A Home Office notice given to Dr Hamilton, seen by THE, states that he was detained because “your removal from the United Kingdom is imminent” and “you do not have enough close ties (eg. family or friends) to make it likely that you will stay in one place”.
“The official reason given was that I don’t have family in the area, which is the position every single international student is in…So if you [as an overseas student] apply for further leave to remain, it means that basically they can just arrest you,” he said.
Dr Hamilton said that he had previously booked an airline ticket to the US with an open date in case the application should be refused, which he believes showed that he was ready to leave the UK.
He also said that friends had since raised £2,000 for his bail application. “The idea that I don’t have friends in the area is just ludicrous,” he added.
Dr Hamilton said that only in the process of being detained was he served with a Home Office notice stating that his application for leave to remain had been refused. The notice, seen by THE, is dated 9 December 2015.
The 42-year-old, originally from California, said that when detained he was in the process of applying to the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust for a research fellowship that he hoped could be hosted at Kingston University, given that he had helped to organise conferences held by the Kingston Shakespeare Seminar.
Ewen Fernie, professor and chair of Shakespeare studies at Birmingham, who was Dr Hamilton’s PhD supervisor, said that he had been “shocked” by news of the detention.
“As well as being a morally serious and sensitive person, Paul is a committed student and teacher of literature who wishes to make an academic career for himself in the country where he has latterly been educated,” Professor Fernie said.
Dr Hamilton said that although Morton Hall staff had been “very humane”, the “procedures are all incredibly humiliating”.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Mr Hamilton’s application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK was refused on the grounds that he did not satisfy the relevant criteria under the immigration rules. He has the option of appealing this decision once he has left the UK.
“The Immigration Act 2014 clearly states that a person who does not have leave to remain in the UK is liable for removal. Enforcement action may be taken to remove these individuals.
“All cases are carefully considered on their individual merits, in line with the immigration rules and based on evidence provided by the applicant.”