Top scholar’s residency application rejected after 16 years in UK

German-born Lars Chittka says he may now leave the country

January 16, 2019
Lars Chittka

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.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: 16 years in UK but scholar’s bid to stay rejected

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Reader's comments (15)

Not sure what the fuss is- as the article implies, professor Chittka has the option to reapply- it only costs £65 to do so....
I suspect that there is more than it meets the eye. There appears to be some arrogance on the part of Professor himself (e.g., he thinks re-applying is akin to 'begging' the Home Office, and is somewhat frivolous to the requirements for the application in terms of photo suitability). As a professor, I found it almost ridiculous that he cannot assess the suitability of the photos for his application and needs assurance from an immigration officer(!). I am saying this as an non-UK academic who has also recently obtained my settlement fuss-free from the Home Office. The arrogance I suspect from him is that he thinks that being eminent in his research contribution to the UK, rules/requirements can be averted/compromised for him specifically (i.e., I am so eminent that the rules don't apply to me or can be comprised for me, or the Home Office should take an obsequious attitude towards my application: they should be glad that I bother to apply at all). Immigration requirements are immigration requirements - everyone should respect the requirements of their host country regardless of how important you think you are.
There's all kinds of issues around what constitutes an acceptable passport picture, so taking advice from someone who knows the guidelines is entirely correct and sensible. Strange you're accusing the professor of arrogance whilst asserting you or he would be in a better position to know what is right than a person qho processes applications as part of their job? Perhaps you don't respect that person - indicating you think 'i.e., I am so eminent that the rules don't apply to me or can be comprised for me'? That aside, do you seriously think it's OK for someone who is clearly the kind of person whose skills and expertise the UK wants to retain to have no right of appeal on what is patently a 'computer said no' issue? Even after they have taken advice to get it right? His attitude is entirely understandable. He respected the requirements of the host country to the letter and it's disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
It is not that hard - I did it on my own without problems. The applicant is a highly educated professional and the instructions for the application (e.g., what constitutes an appropriate photo) are very clear. There are no 'all kinds of issues around what constitutes an acceptable passport picture'. Do not create unnecessary concerns about this when there are clearly none. I have done it in the last couple of months and got my outcome within less than 2 months.This was done all within the context of all this fear-mongering about immigration and Brexit etc - so I know. Yes, it is a tedious application/procedure to complete but there is no reason why he can't do it right. If the photo was rejected, then it means that it did not fulfill the requirements. Respect works both ways - throwing a hissy fit just because your immigration application got rejected is immature and unprofessional. It is not like the applicant is going to be jobless with this rejection - he can re-apply. And, it is not as if he is permanently barred from doing so. It is not the end of the world. Correct the mistake(s) and re-apply (if desired), and move on. You should too.
Hmm. Hissy fit is an appropriate term here. This interaction is worth no more of my time.
Lars is a colleague of mine. He is in no way arrogant and despite his eminence is not at all egotistical - rather he is a solid team player. Maybe you need to take a look at yourself and the assumptions you're making about people you don't know.
For goodness sake, you're just proving my point. He accused the subject of this article of being arrogant. I used a simple rhetorical device to show the same argument could be applied to what he said. His language was inflammatory, and I simply used the same as him. If he and you don't like it, then he shouldn't use such language. Eminence and team playing have nothing to do with it.
Actually, he is applying for settlement not the EU scheme. The cost is nearly £3,000 p.p.
He said “My feeling from this experience is they have been instructed to generate a hostile environment,”. I agree.
What grounds were given for the refusal? And if it's possible to reapply, what's the problem? It's still a clumsy system that does not accommodate the needs of the academic community. No wonder one of our researchers, an Italian, has now departed for China saying that as democracy has failed him, he's going to try a dictatorship instead!
Academic throws hissy fit and sulks off. Slow news day?
There's no right of appeal under any of the routes when it's a refusal. But this was not a refusal, it was a rejection so it definitely wouldn't have a right of appeal. If the application was for permanent residency it would have been less than £65 (that's the settlement scheme price), which I'm sure QMUL would have been able to afford. We're not looking at the exhorbitant costs for ILR or even the student routes. Unfortunately, you could have the cure for cancer but if your application doesn't meet the requirements, then it won't be granted.
I think the above conversation misses the main point: even if most of what the Home Office decides is just and reasonable a lot it does is not really transparent: you submit documents and pray. Nobody will respond to your queries by either phone, email or post. In the very few cases where things do not go to plan, for whatever reason, you will need a lawyer, cash, and time. This can be nerve-wracking for some, in particular if family lives depend on this.
Funny - I had exactly the same problem with passport photos for my PR application last year. Taken in the UK as passport photos, used as such on my German passport, but for some reasons not satisfactory for the Home Office. I've since gone for settled status, which worked fine. I think the problem is mainly that Home Office procedures seem to be designed to discourage immigration. Always easier to reject on flimsy grounds and wait for people to appeal. Doesn't bode well for "Global Britain" though.
There also may be more to this. When you go and get a passport photo (unless you go to a booth), they upload the photo to the Home Office website that checks the digital photo and gives you approval plus a code so that you do not have to submit the photo in hard form.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Summer is upon northern hemisphere academics. But its cherished traditional identity as a time for intensive research is being challenged by the increasing obligations around teaching and administration that often crowd out research entirely during term time. So is the 40/40/20 workload model still sustainable? Respondents to a THE survey suggest not. Nick Mayo hears why

25 July

Sponsored