A leading academic who has lived and worked in the UK for 16 years may leave after his application for permanent residency was rejected without right of appeal.
Lars Chittka, professor of sensory and behavioural ecology and founding leader of the Research Centre for Psychology at Queen Mary University of London, applied for residency in autumn 2018 because it seemed “safer than any other options to secure rights to live and work in the UK” after Brexit.
But an issue over the passport photos submitted with his forms resulted in a straight rejection from the Home Office on 19 December “with no option to appeal the decision”.
While Professor Chittka has applied for settled status through the government’s pre-application scheme set up for skilled European Union workers, only permanent residency would allow him to apply for British citizenship. This “appears the only way to have secure access to [healthcare], pensions and indeed my salary and the right to live in the country”, said Professor Chittka, who was born in Germany.
“Like many of us Europeans, I don’t really trust the settlement scheme – it’s basically cast as a trial scheme, and it’s likely that the conditions and rights that come with it can be revoked at any stage if Brexit turns out to be the economic disaster that many predict it to be,” he added.
Professor Chittka, who has two sons with British citizenship, has the option to submit a new application at further cost to his university, but is considering looking for opportunities abroad instead.
“Frankly, at this stage it seems easier and more straightforward to apply for a job in a country where my work is appreciated, there are no foreseeable issues with my residence status, and I have secure access to European Research Council funding,” he said, adding: “I don’t feel like begging the Home Office.”
Professor Chittka, an editor of Plos Biology and the recipient of an ERC advanced grant, said that a passport return officer had selected the photos for his application and assured him of their suitability. “My feeling from this experience is they have been instructed to generate a hostile environment,” he added.
A Queen Mary spokesman said that the university was “disappointed at the outcome”. “Professor Chittka is a highly valued member of staff whose research and teaching is continually recognised as world-leading,” he added.
A Home Office spokesman said that the UK “values the contribution that international researchers make to the UK. This will not change when we leave the EU.”
“We have a proud record of welcoming the world’s brightest scientists and researchers to work and study here, and after we leave the EU we will have an immigration system to support this.”