Windrush generation will get UK citizenship, says Amber Rudd

Home Office will waive fees and knowledge test, and applicants may get compensation

The home secretary has pledged that the Windrush generation will be granted British citizenship as the government attempted to draw a line under the scandal by describing her apology as “just the first step”.

Amber Rudd told the Commons she recognised the “harrowing” experiences of the Caribbean immigrants who helped rebuild postwar Britain and that she was determined to right the wrongs that had taken place.

The Home Office will now waive citizenship fees for the Windrush generation and their families and any charges for returning to the UK for those who had retired to their countries of origin after making their lives here.

It will also scrap language and British knowledge tests and bring in speedy financial compensation for those that had suffered loss, although there has been little detail so far.

The free citizenship offer will apply not just to the families of Caribbean migrants who came to the UK between 1948 and 1973 but anyone from other Commonwealth nations who settled in the UK over the same period.

Rudd’s announcement follows a series of Guardian reports on the iniquitous treatment of the Windrush generation that prompted public outrage and questions in parliament.

“I am personally committed to resolving this situation with urgency and purpose. Of course an apology is just the first step in putting right the wrongs that these people have suffered,” she told MPs.

The government has struggled to contain mounting pressure on both Rudd and Theresa May over the impact of the prime minister’s “hostile environment” policy.

Both have apologised for the distress caused to Caribbean immigrants and their families who settled in the UK between 1948 and 1973. Some have been threatened with deportation, lost their jobs or been denied medical treatment after the changes to immigration rules in 2014.

Rudd said that while the public expected rules to be enforced, some of the steps to tackle illegal immigration have had “unintended and sometimes devastating” consequences for the Windrush generation, who are here legally but have struggled to get documentation to prove their status.

“They are British in all but legal status and this should never have been allowed to happen,” she said. “We need to show a human face to how we work and exercise greater judgement where it is justified.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, welcomed the announcement but said that the debacle should not have come as a surprise to ministers, saying the “buck stopped” with Rudd for the crisis.

“Many people think the events around the Windrush generation are one of the biggest scandals in the administration of home affairs in a very long time,” she said.

“This was a generation with unparalleled commitment to this country, unparalleled pride in being British, unparalleled commitment to hard work and contributing to society. It is shameful that this government has treated this generation in this way.”

David Lammy, the Tottenham MP who has campaigned relentlessly for the Windrush victims, asked Rudd to extend the concessions to other immigrants from the Commonwealth countries Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

“I and others are in this country because my parents were born under the British empire. When she says that people can apply for British citizenship if they want it, does she understand that that citizenship was theirs all along,” he said.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, demanded that Rudd end the net migration targets which were behind the wider problems, while Labour backbencher Wes Streeting said the Windrush cases were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the measures announded by Rudd were a welcome first step towards righting historical wrongs.

But its chief executive, Satbir Singh, added: “By placing yet another sticking plaster over its failures, the government has said and done nothing to indicate that it is taking the root causes of this crisis seriously. We need to see root-and-branch reform of the Home Office if we are to avoid another Windrush.”

A special home office team to help those caught up in the scandal has already been set up, and will also be available to those who arrived between 1973 and 1988.

Nine residency cases have been resolved, while a further 84 people have made appointments. Officials are also going through all records dating back to 2002 to check if anybody had been wrongly deported.

Rudd’s statement came as it emerged that her department was to be given sweeping data protection exemptions.

Campaigners for the Windrush generation say the changes to be brought in under the data protection bill will deprive applicants of a reliable means of obtaining files about themselves through what are known as subject access requests.

It means that challenging the Home Office’s notoriously poor decision-making in immigration cases could become far more difficult and result in miscarriages of justice, say civil rights groups.

The Guardian first revealed the plight of Windrush immigrants last November, with interviews with retirement-age UK residents, Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan, and who had both been wrongly sent to immigration detention centres before removal to Jamaica, a country neither had visited for 50 years.

After the introduction of the “hostile environment” policy many had variously been made homeless, lost their jobs, been unable to visit dying parents, threatened with deportation, forced to live for years under the radar in hiding from immigration officials, denied benefits and urgent NHS cancer care.

In her statement, Rudd praised the media for “relentlessly” exposing individual cases of the Windrush generation and for the “extraordinary work” that had led to the changes the government had announced.

Anthony Bryan, 60, who spent three-weeks in detention and whose case was one of the first highlighted in the Guardian last year, was sceptical about Rudd’s claim to have acted swiftly as soon as she was made aware of the problem.

Sarah O’Connor, 57, who was told she was an illegal immigrant last year, after a lifetime of living and paying taxes in the UK, having arrived from Jamaica when she was six, wondered how the compensation was going to be awarded.

“Will it go to everyone or just a select few? I am so angry. Theresa May introduced this when she was home secretary, and all our problems were just swept under carpet. This is all a bit late.”

In November last year, Paulette Wilson (left), who has lived in the UK for more than half a century, spoke to the Guardian's Amelia Gentleman about her treatment at the hands of the Home Office - and revealed that she had been held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre and threatened with deportation. It was the first of a series of stories that developed a picture of how many members of the Windrush generation were being mistreated by the government under the so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy. By February, with other examples mounting, the government had relented in Wilson’s case, but faced acute criticism from Caribbean diplomats who urged the Home Office to adopt a “more compassionate” approach.

In March the story of Albert Thompson - who had lived in Britain for 44 years but was told to produce a passport or face a bill of £54,000 for cancer treatment - forced attention back to the growing crisis. After the Guardian reported a string of additional cases matters came to a head when Theresa May refused to meet with Caribbean diplomats to discuss the issue, prompted fury among opposition MPs and a wider media backlash. After days of negative publicity, the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, and May were forced to change tack and issued apologies, promised reforms – and eventually gave the Windrush generation a fast-track to citizenship.


Pippa Crerar, Anne Perkins and Amelia Gentleman

The GuardianTramp

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