Vince Cable hits out at Home Office decision to deport government adviser

The Business Secretary calls the visa rules being applied to the expert academic on UK-China relations “damaging”.

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The New Statesman can reveal that the Business Secretary has criticised the Home Office’s decision to deport the academic Dr Miwa Hirono.

Hirono, a Japanese native who has been working as an academic in the UK for six and a half years, is being sent back to Japan by the Home Office on Sunday.

The academic, who is an expert on UK-China relations and has advised the government on such matters, is a Research Council UK research fellow, which means her research has been funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The Home Office ruled that she could no longer stay, due to her work-related absences from the country in 2009 and 2010 exceeding the 180-day yearly limit. This 180-day rule was brought in after this, in 2012, and Hirono complains that it is therefore being applied “retrospectively” to her case.

In response to the case of Hirono being denied leave to remain, the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable says:

I am concerned that the way the visa system is being applied is damaging to the country and is unfair to those high skilled individuals this country desperately needs.

Cable adds that his party wants to, “see a visa system which supports economic growth, by ensuring we can continue to attract and maintain global talent.”

Yet the Home Office sticks by its decision based on visa rules. A spokesperson comments:

All applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules. Ms Hirono’s application for indefinite leave to remain was refused in July 2014 because she had spent more than 180 days outside the UK. During the appeal process, Ms Hirono notified the Home Office of her intention to leave the UK voluntarily.

Hirono, who is one of the very few academic experts advising the government on UK-China relations in terms of peacekeeping and cooperation, says she is “shocked” to be being “kicked out by that same government”.

She says, “the government is shooting itself in the foot”, because “they need this kind of infomation. I'm highly sought by the government. I think it's absolutely ridiculous.”

One of her policy papers is published on the government’s website (China’s Engagement in Non-Traditional Security: Challenges and Opportunities for UK-China Cooperation), and she says though her recommendations haven’t been taken on “word for word”, the government is “going ahead in the spirit of my research” and pursuing the next phase of cooperation with China.

One well-placed source tells me that when British and Chinese representatives met at the Embassy in London to discuss cooperation, Hirono was the sole academic invited to attend.

Hirono is leaving on Sunday with her husband and one-year-old son. She will start working at the Ritsumeikan University next Tuesday.
 


 

“I thought there was a mistake,” she says about receiving the letter from the Home Office. “I thought I must be having a nightmare, but it was actually a reality. I'm totally shocked.”

Before she arrived in the UK, she saw it as a welcoming country. “Although I didn't know much about it, I kind of assumed, I trusted the government that they have common sense.

“As long as I work hard, contribute to society, contribute to the university, and I don't commit any crimes, I pay tax, all the common sense stuff, and I have a permanent position, surely I can extend my stay. That's the kind of trust I had. But it proved to be wrong.”

Hirono is now planning on a “campaign” for the Home Office to change its rules about being absent from the UK. It found Hirono’s justification that she was out of the country for “work-related” matters – not for leisure – not to be a “compelling” reason to let her stay. Hirono wants this to change:

“The most important thing from my perspective is that the UK needs to change the law from saying that work-related absences are the same as holiday absences; they regard work-related absences as ‘not compelling’. I think that's absolutely, utterly ridiculous. 

“I'm thinking about doing some kind of campaign – I don't really know how exactly I can do that because there's not much time for me, in the midst of packing and everything, and I have to leave on Sunday – but I really want to do something to change that part of the law, so that UK businesses, including higher education and the people who are working in those industries, can be safe staying here and working hard.”

According to the Home Office, migrants who wish to settle must show "a commitment to living and working in the UK". The new rules introduced in 2012 give migrants an 180-day limit for being absent from the UK each year and still qualify for settlement. The department asserts that this is more generous than the old rules, which "only allowed six months absences in total over the whole five years".

Hirono’s refusal notice states her employment was considered as part of her application. It says:

You failed to provide compelling or compassionate evidence of your circumstances which would necessitate you exceptionally needing to remain outside the UK for a total of 270 days between 21/3/2009 and 20/3/2010 and 202 days between 21/3/2010 and 20/3/2011.

Read Hirono’s account of this case on Times Higher Education.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.