“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be a dream, but it really isn’t.”
What’s happening to
Born in 1986 in the Hammersmith district of west London, Best has never had any reason to doubt her British citizenship until a recent visit to the Home Office (the British agency in charge of immigration). There, she was told that she isn’t—and has never been—a British citizen.
“It was news to
The story of exactly why Best—who has lived in London her whole life—isn’t actually a British citizen is a long and complicated one.
Best’s grandparents immigrated to the United Kingdom from Barbados in 1956. At that time, Barbados was still a colony of the UK, which meant their family were considered British citizens. Best’s mother, Cynthia, arrived in Britain in 1968 at the age of 12 and was the last of the couple’s children to make their way to the UK.
In the 11 years between 1955 and 1966, over 27,000 Barbadians made their way to the UK. The vast majority of those immigrants now have fourth- and fifth-generation descendants in the UK with full British citizenship.
It had never occurred to Best that her situation could be any different.
Before 1983, anyone born in the UK was automatically British. That year, however, the nation’s laws changed so that even if a child is born in Britain, they aren’t technically British unless their parents are British at the time of the birth.
Cynthia, Best’s mother, holds Barbadian citizenship while her father—though he has since become a British citizen—was Guyanese when Best was born in 1986. Because she was the only one of the family’s five children born after the change in the law, Best is also the only one of the five who isn’t actually a British citizen.
All of this was news to her.
“I got a letter in the post asking me to come to the Home Office in Croydon to make sure [her impending marriage] wasn’t a sham marriage. We thought it was an interview for that, and I ended up being detained for seven hours,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Best arrived at the office concerned that there might be issues with her fiancé’s immigration status.
“I was more worried about him than myself,” Best said, “and then it all turned on me. He was fine because he was still within his six months [visitor visa] and his time hadn’t run out yet. I was all worried about him going there, and then it all just flipped on me. They were like, ‘You’re the one who’s got no status.'”
“Straight away they asked me my name and then my nationality and I said, ‘British,'” Best continued. “She said, ‘No you’re not,’ and I said, ‘Yes I am,’ and she said, ‘No you’re not, you’re Barbadian.'”
The authorities at the Home Office then detained best for hours, taking her to a secure holding site. Best told BuzzFeed News, “There were other people in there and we were locked in and couldn’t go nowhere. They had all of our stuff. They wouldn’t even let me make a phone call to arrange for me to get my kids picked up from school or anything.”
Eventually, the authorities allowed Best to leave.
“I think they let me out at quarter past, maybe half past 3. My kids had already finished school, but luckily a friend who lives on the estate was just getting ready to leave the school so I just quickly called and asked her to grab my kids. But I would definitely have not made it there in time had I had to go there on my own. And I was just so distressed that day, it was just awful.”
That fateful day was only the beginning of Best’s troubles, however.
Best, had relied on government assistance in order to stay at home and take care of her young sons. Now, because her lack of citizenship has been recognized by the British government, she’s no longer eligible for those funds.
To make matters worse, Best—who was looking for employment when she was summoned to the Home Office—now isn’t legally able to work until she obtains a work visa.
Now, Best is two months behind on rent and doesn’t have the money for the £2,993 (approximately $4,000 USD) fee she’d need to apply for her “Indefinite Leave to Remain,” the legal status she’d need to remain in the UK for good.
Best’s fiancé has since returned to Barbados because his visitor’s visa expired, and now the pair’s future is in question.
“I talk to him every day on FaceTime and stuff, but it’s hard for us because we don’t know when we’re going to see each other again.”
Best is able to stay in Britain for the time being—so long as she continues to jump through the hoops that the Home Office sends her way. Still, the inability to work or access public funds puts her in a precarious situation that seems to have no end in sight.