The first time Aisha walked into my office, I was taken by surprise by her smile.
Aisha appeared happy and content and had given me the most genuine and warmest of smiles.
Had I not known what I did about her case, I would never have guessed she was in such a desperate situation.
A few days earlier, my good friend and inspirational charity worker Salman had visited me in relation to Aisha’s case.
Salman did not know the full details of her case but was very concerned about her welfare.
He told me that she was a widow who was homeless and that she had been living on the street with her daughter because of her immigration problems.
Having lost my own father as a child and witnessed the daily struggles my mother went through, I knew that I had to help her.
Aisha’s story was as inspiring as it was shocking.
She was an intelligent, educated and dignified woman who had come to the UK many years earlier as a student with her husband.
While in the UK, she had given birth to her daughter Haneefa.
Her husband eventually returned to Kenya but Aisha wanted to continue her education in the UK and was accepted for a PhD at one of the top ten universities in the country.
She would return to Kenya every year with her daughter to visit her husband.
On one such occasion, her husband unexpectedly passed away in what was to be the beginning of Aisha’s traumatic experiences.
As a result of her husband’s sudden death, Aisha ended up staying in Kenya a little longer than she had anticipated.
She thereafter returned to the UK with Haneefa to complete her PhD.
Aisha applied to extend her leave to remain but as a result of her having been outside the UK longer than she should have, the Home Office refused her application.
She then made a new application requesting for the decision to be reconsidered in light of her compassionate circumstances.
However, no decision had been made.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, but Aisha still had not heard from the Home Office.
Without evidence of her right to live in the UK, she began to experience numerous difficulties.
Her university warned her that she would be unable to complete her PhD until the Home Office provided her with evidence of her right to reside in the UK.
She lost her job as a teacher for the same reasons.
She could not claim benefits as she had no evidence of her leave to remain.
It was not long before Aisha’s limited life’s savings ran out and she was no longer able to pay her rent or purchase even basic food items for her and her daughter.
Eventually, they were both evicted with nowhere to go.
Aisha and Haneefa thereafter lived a somewhat nomadic life moving from place to place, surviving one day at a time.
Their accommodation varied between churches, the homes of strangers and the street.
By the time, she came to see me, she had found a room for her and Haneefa to stay in. However, it was also temporary until the owner of the property returned from abroad and she was already searching for a future “home”.
Aisha would clean homes and tutor children privately to earn a meagre income which enabled her to get by on a day-to-day basis.
Remarkably, she continued to send Haneefa to school throughout this time.
Even more incredible was the fact that despite her circumstances, Haneefa was topping her class and achieving amazing results at school.
Aisha’s university had also accommodated her and enabled her to complete her PhD, which in itself was a unimaginable accomplishment considering her circumstances.
I asked Aisha why she had not sought help from a solicitor before now.
She replied that she had gone to a few but was unable to afford their fees. She had never heard of Legal Aid before.
I queried why she had not approached any charities for help.
Her response underlined her immense dignity. She said she did not want anyone to do her a favour and that she relied on God alone.
Even in her darkest moments, she had not resorted to begging but would clean or teach to earn her money.
She did not want anyone to feel that she or her daughter owed them anything.
It had been over three years since Aisha had submitted her application to the Home Office.
To say that I was angry would be an understatement.
Home Office delays are nothing new. They routinely cause immigrants severe stress, anxiety and hardship.
In 2013, the Home Affairs Select Committee condemned the backlog of immigration cases that had risen to over half a million that they estimated would take 37 years to clear.
Last year, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman produced a scathing report in which it concluded that procedural errors, delays and poor decisions meant people had to endure “prolonged uncertainty”.
Aisah’s story was the practical living reality of administrative delays.
For a mother to be sleeping rough with her daughter in 21st century Britain was simply unacceptable.
Upon receiving some very strongly worded letters and threats of issuing judicial review proceedings, the Home Office issued Aisha and Haneefa with indefinite leave to remain.
The process took just a few months which was incredible seeing that the Home Office had sat on her application for so many years.
I had not done anything extraordinary. I had just written a few letters and that was all that it had taken.
It saddened me deeply that she and Haneefa could have been spared years of trauma if a solicitor had simply written a few letters on her behalf to the Home Office.
After I first met Aisha, I felt that I had to do something to help her. I told some close friends about her situation and within days they had collected £500 in cash for her.
One friend turned up at my house with his car overflowing with groceries he had bought from Asda.
Aisha graciously accepted the shopping but stubbornly refused to accept the money from me and eventually I had to slip it through the letterbox in an envelope.
She called me and insisted that she was treating it like a loan and would repay it one day.
In my final meeting with Aisah when I gave her the status documents she had been waiting for so long, I explained to her that she could now work again and could also claim benefits and get social housing.
She smiled and said she would not need them.
I reassured her that I understood her reasons but that until she secured a job and got back on her feet, it was advisable to have a stable source of income.
She smiled again.
“All these years, I survived without benefits and all I wanted to do was to work. Now I am legal, I will work and continue to rely on God to sustain me as He has until now.”
About six months later, Aisha visited me again at my office and handed me an envelope.
I opened it to find £500 inside.
“Please give it to someone who needs it”, she said.
And she smiled as she had done the very first day she came to see me.
A great man once said,
“People are the same in good times. But it is when hardship befalls that they show distinction.”
Has your life been impacted by delays at the Home Office? Please share your experience in the comments box below.
Click here to learn about the different ways to deal with the Home Office where they have delayed making a decision on your case.
Visadreams.com, Diary of an Immigration Lawyer, is a blog run by Fahad Ansari, the director and principal solicitor of Riverway Law, a niche UK immigration and nationality law practice based in London. If you would like any advice or assistance in relation to your immigration matter, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your details here.