Amnesty for Caribbean Immigrants in Britain: A Question of Moral and Human Rights Protection

Published: 18 April 2018

Prime Minister Theresa May has apologised to Caribbean leaders over the Windrush generation controversy, at a Downing Street meeting. She said she was "genuinely sorry" about the anxiety caused by the Home Office threatening the children of Commonwealth citizens with deportation. The UK government "valued" the contribution they had made, she said, and they had a right to stay in the UK. It comes amid reports some are still facing deportation. (source BBC News)


Jose Mauricio Gaona, O'Brien Fellow, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Faculty of Law

The 1971 Immigration Act granted indefinite leave to Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK to remain in the country without requiring documentation. Yet subsequent reforms require immigrants in the UK to prove their immigration status. Since the arrival records of the so-called Windrush generation (i.e., approximately 524,000 people coming from Caribbean nations) were destroyed in 2010 by the government under a data-protection policy, it is now more difficult to ascertain their immigration status. Even though British Prime Minister Theresa May recently acknowledged that these immigrants are British, some of them have been deported, detained, or denied employment, health care, and housing services due to the lack of evidence regarding their immigration status. 

A moral and human rights case therefore emerges. First, unlike amnesties grated to undocumented immigrants in other countries (e.g., US Amnesty in 1986), the Windrush generation was legally present in the UK before the government’s policy changed. Second, immigration amnesty is a political decision based on moral grounds aimed at overcoming immigration and human rights situations that current laws often cannot envisage. The mistakes the government made, the political support (140 MPs from all parties), and the need to protect basic human rights (human dignity, equality, liberty) are compelling reasons to grant immigration amnesty. 

Topics: Constitutional, immigration, and international law

Languages: English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Contact: jm.gaona [at]

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