Windrush grandmother who worked in UK for decades sacked from migrants' charity job over right to remain

'All my life I have worked and paid my taxes, even when I had children I made sure to work part-time... They need to look at people as individuals'

Chris Baynes
Wednesday 25 April 2018 18:54 BST
Jessica Eugene arrived in the UK from Dominica at the age of 10
Jessica Eugene arrived in the UK from Dominica at the age of 10

A Windrush generation grandmother who has paid taxes in the UK for nearly 40 years lost her job at a charity which helps migrants because she could not prove her right to work in the country.

Jessica Eugene, who moved to Britain from the Caribbean island of Dominica at the age 10, was sacked as a receptionist after her employer asked for papers showing her right to remain.

Ms Eugene, who lives in Stratford, east London, has not left the UK since arriving in April 1970 and believed she did not need a passport.

The 58-year-old considers herself to be British, and her four children and two grandchildren were born in the UK.

She has held several jobs in London, including as an office manager at a fairtrade organisation for 17 years, and paid national insurance contributions for decades.

But she was sacked by Newham Community Renewal Programme, where she had worked for three years, at the end of March.

In her final dismissal letter, her employer said: “I write to confirm that you have failed to provide your right to work documents to the charity.

“The Renewal Programme therefore has no choice but to terminate your employment with immediate effect.

“This is in line with our statutory obligation to comply with legislation regarding the right to work in the UK.”

Scores of Windrush generation migrants have been caught up in a government crackdown designed to make the UK a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.

Changes to immigration law, introduced in 2014 when Theresa May was home secretary, require employers to take action in the absence of documents proving a right to live in the UK.

Jeremy Corbyn calls on Amber Rudd to resign as Home Secretary over Windrush scandal

Ms Eugene said she contacted the Home Office a year ago but, before losing her job, felt secure about her status because she had been told in the 1970s she had the right to remain in the country.

“The whole time I have had the immigration officer's words in my head, that I had the indefinite right to stay,” she said.

“All my life I have worked and paid my taxes, even when I had children I made sure to work part-time.”

She said she was “gutted” to lose her job at the charity, which provides support to migrants, refugees, homeless people, and carers.

“It’s really unjust the government’s policy has had this impact, I’ve always worked and want to continue doing so,” she added.

“I’m a very positive person, I’ve always kept myself to myself – it’s how we do things.”

Newham Community Renewal Programme told The Independent it had first-hand experience of the "deep pain and suffering” caused by the government’s immigration clampdown, but said “as an employer, we are constrained by the legislation”.

Home secretary Amber Rudd this week pledged to fast-track citizenship applications for the Windrush generation as the government fought to quell the scandal.

Ms Eugene said she would also like an apology.

“They need to look at people as individuals," she added.

“It all came at once, after all this time – I wish that they could treat every case individually, so they could understand our situations.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The home secretary has been clear, this is about people who have built their lives here in the UK and contributed so much to our society.

“We don’t want them to feel unwelcome or to be in any doubt about their right to remain here and she has apologised unreservedly for any distress caused.

“We have no record of Ms Eugene making an application to the Home Office but we would encourage her to contact the dedicated phone number so that we can help her obtain documentation as quickly as possible.”

In a statement, Newham Community Renewal Programme said: “We respect the privacy of our clients and staff, and therefore we cannot comment about a specific individual.

“As an employer, we are constrained by the legislation which requires us to see documentation for all employees.

“Through our work we know there has been deep pain and suffering experienced by people as a result of the current legislation, and therefore we welcome the additional support recently announced for the Windrush generation.”

Ms May's "hostile environment" policy has led to migrants needing to prove their citizenship with documentary evidence before being able to work, rent homes or receive medical treatment, even if they have been in the country for many years.

Often children who travelled to the UK on parents’ passports during the post-war Windrush period did not apply for travel documents, and so lack a trail of official paperwork.

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