Dr Asiya Islam was awarded a three-year research fellowship at Newnham College last year, after completing her PhDLouis Ashworth

The UK Home Office has denied a Cambridge research fellow’s application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK, requiring that she leave the country when her current visa expires at the end of January.

Over 100 academics have so far signed an open letter in protest of the decision and calling for its reversal, since it began circulating on Friday. Dr Asiya Islam, a Junior Research Fellow at Newnham who has been resident in the UK for over 10 years, said that the government “is driving away global researchers” with the current political direction under its hostile environment policy.

Islam, 31, received her PhD in Sociology from Cambridge as a Gates Scholar, and previously studied at the London School of Economics.

After submitting her application for ILR on 20th September and paying additional fees out-of-pocket for a decision within 24 hours, Islam waited 5 weeks to receive a letter denying her application. The Home Office stated that it was denied on the basis of her being absent from the country for too many days. Islam spent a year in Delhi researching in the field for her PhD at Cambridge. Islam provided letters from the University and the Sociology Department to the Home Office that proved this fieldwork was a necessary part of her research, but the Home Office said that she “failed to provide any exceptional reasons in support of [her] out of time application”.

The Home Office has said that ILR is normally refused under a Tier 4 (general student) visa if the individual was absent from the country for over 540 days in a decade. However, the open letter cited Home Office guidelines published on 1st October 2019, which states that “the time abroad can be waived for Tier 2 [general work] visa holders in PhD level occupation when they are absent from the UK for research purposes”.

Islam has said that she subsequently learnt of other international academics being denied permanent residence due to the same problem of absence for research. “Under this government,” she tweeted, “there is an attack on academics”. A spokesperson for Newnham College told The Guardian: “Without talented academics like Dr Islam, the University of Cambridge would not be a global leader in research”.

The spokesperson added, “Dr Asiya Islam is a highly valued member of the research community at Newnham College and the University of Cambridge. Dr Islam has an impressive academic record: she was a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, was awarded the best degree performance award at the London School of Economics, and received the Dr Zakir Hussain medal for academic excellence from Aligarh Muslim University.”

Cambridge announced in September 2018 that it would provide free legal support for EU citizens applying for Settled Status but no such financial support is automatically provided by the University for those applying for ILR, which costs £2,389 as well as an additional £800 for an immediate decision.

Islam is planning to appeal against the decision.