#Windrush reflections across the generations

I’m sure my parents didn’t think it, and I certainly didn’t: we are, apparently, part of the Windrush Generation. The fact that we migrated from Jamaica on a BOAC flight not on the Windrush seems irrelevant.

According to a BBC report, Windrush generation: Who are they and why are they facing problems?, ‘This is a reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK.’ The BBC also noted that there are now 500,000 people resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971 – including the Windrush arrivals – according to estimates by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory. The influx ended with the 1971 Immigration Act, when Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain.

The fact that my parents and I left England means that we were not ensured by immigration issues about our rights of abode in the UK. However, we did have issues.

When we left Jamaica in 1961 we were all UK citizens. After Jamaica’s Independence in 1962, we became Jamaicans, with a right to retain UK citizenship for a limited amount of time. Of course, as a 7 year old at the time of Independence, not of this registered with me. It never mattered to me until the 1980s.

I had travelled to England on my father’s UK passport. As I needed to travel to Europe during my time at grammar school, I went abroad on a British visitor‘s passport, which one obtained from a Post Office, and was valid for no more than a year. It was introduced in 1961 and good for travel in Western Europe.

It was a simplified document and I had several of these during my student years. It was discontinued in the mid-1990s.

At some stage, I obtained a Jamaican passport, as my parents had done, earlier. So, as I passed through life it did not occur to me that I was anything but a British-Jamaican citizen.

Fast forward. I was offered a job at the Bank of England, but at my final interview was asked if I was a British citizen. I said I thought so, recounting my history briefly. But, to be sure, I agreed to check with the Home Office, before finalizing the offer. I discovered that I could reregister as a British citizen, having lost this at Jamaica’s Independence. It was a simple process, and my central banking career could begin. That was in 1980.

I assumed my parents had already done this themselves. However, as I combed through my father’s papers, I came across the reregistration documents for him and my mother, and they are dated several years after mine.

What we’ve seen during 2018 is how some of these immigration issues have caught some migrants out, so that despite being in the UK for decades they found that they had problems proving their right of abode. To me, it’s an understandable situation which could have been resolved more easily with a different attitude toward immigrants. Decisions to destroy copies of landing records of some of these people are among the more disturbing and puzzling. Home Office processes led to some wrongful detentions and deportations of members of the Windrush generation, says a National Audit Office report. To say that the Home Office didn’t have a good understanding of what the rules implied for some migrants is an understatement.

British nationality laws are complicated and have become more so since the early-1970s. As the BBC noted in April: ‘In 1971 these people were told they could stay permanently but the government didn’t keep a full record of them. Some of these people didn’t apply for official paperwork like a UK passport.

In 2012 there was a change to immigration law and people were told they needed official documents to prove they could get things like free hospital treatment or benefits in this country.’

It’s quite understandable that many immigrants were ignorant of their true citizenship status. They could easily have confused time in country and involvement in many aspects of national life, or using travel documents that appeared to confer citizenship, or a host of other things as somehow conferring citizenship. People who travelled to the UK on their parents’ passports could understandably thought that they were British, after a life being raised in the UK, and might never have understood the need for a document to prove that.

All of my cousins in England were born there. They don’t have these citizenship issues facing them, thankfully.

Ironically, many Caribbean migrants never went to Britain with views of remaining permanently. But, things always change once you start moving around. Sadly, though, some of those Jamaicans who left England after different degrees of stay, especially long ones, haven’t found returning home a bed of roses, either.

It’s trite but true that life of often existence between a rock and a hard place.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)