Office of Daniel Zeichner

Newnham fellow Dr Asiya Islam and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner delivered a petition to the Home Office today to urge the Home Secretary to reconsider the refusal to grant Dr Islam Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

The petition is signed by over 2000 academics and comes as Islam’s visa expiration date continues to loom closer.

Today’s events follow Zeichner’s previous call for the Home Office to revoke their earlier decision.

Supporters acompanied Islam and Zeichner, holding signs reading “we are people not numbers” and “end hostile environment”.

Islam has spent the last 10 years of her life in the UK and completed her PhD as a Cambridge Gates Scholar in 2019. However, she was told that her application for settlement was refused on the grounds of “excessive absence” from the country, in violation of the terms of her student visa, when she conducted PhD research.

Islam is legally appealing the Home Office’s decision. Her appeal hearing is on the 27th of February, nearly a month after her current visa expires on the 30th of January.

Islam expressed her frustration with the minimal communication from the Home Office to Varsity, stating: “despite almost three months of fighting the Home Office decision, international media coverage, an open letter signed by 2000 academics, and direct representations to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, I have not heard anything at all from the Home Office.”

She was told of the Home Office’s refusal to grant her Indefinite Leave to Remain on the 5th of November 2019.

Islam has been supported by the University, who have provided evidence for the necessity of her fieldwork. Yet, the Home Office assert that Islam has failed to provide any “exceptional reasons” for her prolonged time outside of the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson told Varsity that Dr Islam’s appeal “is currently being considered by the Home Office”.

Daniel Zeichner MP said he hoped “the Home Secretary will see sense and exercise her discretion.”Office of Daniel Zeichner

The University and College Union (UCU) also wrote to the Home Office on the 13th of January in support of Islam’s case. Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, expressed concerns that the current interpretation of the Home Office’s policy risks “losing a talented academic from our higher education sector”.

Islam conveyed similar sentiments to Grady surrounding the detriment her case would have for the UK’s global academic status: “If the decision is not urgently overturned, global researchers will be rightly discouraged from choosing to come to a country where they could be penalised for doing academic work. As the UK leaves Europe at the end of the month, this will have serious ramifications for its position as a leader in education.”

Islam, as part of her PhD, spent eleven months in New Delhi, India. Tier 2 visas, which are held by international academics employed in UK institutions, enable extensive periods of time abroad for academic purposes. However, Islam, while completing her PhD, was living under a Tier 4 visa (a student visa). The Home Office policy for Tier 4 visa holders prevents a holder from being absent from the country for over 540 days over a 10-year time period.


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Islam contends that the length of her fieldwork was necessary to gain the trust of research participants. She claims that this was necessary as her research explored the delicate issues of family, identities and gender, for which it was necessary that she gain the trust of women with whom she was working.

Zeichner commented on the case: “Ministers need to understand that many academics have to work abroad as part of their job. This case is hugely significant and its outcome will be watched carefully by the academic community in the UK and the world. I hope the Home Secretary reconsiders so Britain’s hard-won reputation for global academic excellence is not harmed.”

Islam’s case comes amidst debate surrounding the Prime Minister’s immigration rhetoric and policy. Islam has commented “Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today said that in post-Brexit UK, people will come before passports. But the absolute silence on my case signals otherwise. I hope that handing in the letter to the Home Office tomorrow will draw attention to this discrepancy.”

Islam and Zeichner are seeking a response from the Home Office Secretary, Priti Patel, following the open letter, with Zeichner hoping “the Home Secretary will see sense and exercise her discretion.”

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