The Home Office’s refusal to allow a high-flying academic expert on China, who has advised the UK government, to remain in the UK has been described by one of her colleagues as “pure madness”.
Miwa Hirono came to the University of Nottingham in 2008 on a five-year Research Councils UK fellowship that then automatically becomes a permanent lectureship.
However, her application, made last March, for indefinite leave to remain was denied because she had breached a rule forbidding applicants from leaving the country for more than 180 days in any year during the previous five. She spent about 200 days abroad in 2009 and 2010.
Dr Hirono, who has a one-year-old child born in the UK and bought a house while at Nottingham, said that nearly all her absences had been for research into China’s foreign peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.
The Japanese national won an appeal based on her human right to a family life. However, the Home Office appealed that ruling, noting that “the appellant has been fully aware…that their stay is precarious”. The appeal was admitted last week. Now, having not had her passport for a year, Dr Hirono has abandoned her fight and accepted a position at a university in Kyoto.
“I need stability; I can’t live like this,” she said. “What has happened to me is absolutely wrong and everyone understands my point except the Home Office. In the past I have been saying to my colleagues overseas that this is a wonderful place to work but now I am telling them not to come because…your life can be severed all of a sudden.”
Mathew Humphrey, head of Nottingham’s School of Politics and International Relations, said that the Home Office’s appeal was both “vindictive and bone-headed”. Professor Humphrey said that Dr Hirono’s research had had a significant impact on policy towards China, including on the UK’s cooperation programme with the country.
“Perhaps the Home Office think that Chinese-speaking experts on China’s foreign policy grow on trees, but I can assure them they do not. We put a great deal of effort into hiring the best talent to ensure Nottingham remains globally competitive, but under these immigration policies we are doing so with one hand tied behind our back,” he said.
Philip Cowley, professor of parliamentary government at Nottingham, said: “It is pure madness for the government to be driving out an expert on what is probably the most important foreign policy challenge of the next decade. Both from a human perspective and from the interests of the UK, this is indefensible.”
The Home Office said that all applications were “considered on their merits and in line with immigration rules”.