Windrush scandal: no passport for thousands who moved to Britain

New census data shows that about 21,000 people who moved to the UK before 1971 have neither a British passport nor a passport from the country where they were born, giving the strongest picture so far of the possible scale of the Windrush scandal.

The data reveals the number of people who may experience difficulty in proving that they are in the UK legally.

About 5,200 of the people without passports were born in Caribbean countries, according to the data, suggesting there may be many more non-Windrush people struggling to prove they are not illegal immigrants.

Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The statistics show us that there are large numbers of people who entered the UK under similar policies who are not from the Caribbean. We don’t know from the data whether some people from some countries are more likely to have problems with the absence of documentation, but certainly there is no reason to think that this will be an issue for people exclusively from the Caribbean.”

It is not clear why the majority of cases have so far centred on people born in Caribbean countries. This data could indicate that the full extent of the Windrush scandal may eventually spread beyond the large numbers of people affected from Caribbean nations or it might suggest there has been some level of discrimination which has meant that people from Caribbean countries have disproportionately experienced difficulties.

The new census data is consistent with previous analysis of Commonwealth migrants living in the UK who arrived before 1971, published by the Migration Observatory, but provides a more accurate count and gives more detailed information about the physical documents people hold.

“It shows that 90% of around 600,000 Commonwealth migrants who came to the UK before 1971 and were still resident here in 2011 held a British passport and that 57,000 did not, which is similar to our earlier analysis of the labour force survey,” Sumption said.

“Perhaps more importantly though, it shows that about 21,000 pre-1971 Commonwealth migrants did not have any passport at all. This group is likely to be at highest risk of getting into trouble with the immigration enforcement measures that led to the so-called ‘Windrush’ cases. Of course, people without a passport may still be able to demonstrate their legal status with other evidence, such as a naturalisation certificate or another immigration document.”

The Home Office said: “While this data shows which people in this cohort did not hold a passport on the day of the census, this does not necessarily mean that they have never held a passport or that their residency status has not been fixed in other ways.”

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