A Singaporean national who has been living in the UK for ten years is currently fighting a lengthy battle with the Home Office to remain in the country he now calls home. Dr Luke Ong came to the UK in 2007 to study medicine at the University of Manchester. After completing his five-year course in 2012, he began training as a GP and, when his latest visa application was flatly refused, had only five months left until he was fully qualified.
Dr Ong intended to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after believing that he would qualify under the Immigration Rules, having ten years of continuous residence in the UK. However, when he applied for a Home Office Premium Service appointment in July of last year and paid the relevant fees, he was only able to book an appointment for August. He was then told by the Home Office helpline staff that his August appointment was not within the 28-day limit of his full ten years, which would have been in September of that year. The earliest he could qualify for ten years of residence also fell one day after his last visa expired.
On rearranging his appointment, he was told that the next available slot anywhere in the country was on September 2nd, 18 days after his latest visa was due to expire. He was told at the Premium Service appointment that, had he posted the application the day his visa expired, it would have been accepted. There is currently an online petition started by Dr Ong with over 40,000 signatures, showing that he has strong support for his attempt to stay in the country.
Dr Ong has built a life here over the past ten years. He is currently unable to work, maintaining himself through savings as his case travels through its process.
Dr Ong and the NHS
His medical studies during his first five years cost him almost £100,000. The training he received during the five years following his graduation cost the NHS almost £300,000. If he is deported to Singapore, he’ll have to wait for a 12-month ‘cooling off’ period before reapplying for a visa to come back to the UK. By then he will have been out of training for more than the maximum permitted period by the NHS, which is twelve months.
This is another example of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ which aims to crack down on immigration rule-breakers but is actually causing extensive harm to ordinary citizens who have lived law-abiding, happy lives in the UK.
IAS has been supporting Dr Ong throughout his appeal process and submitted his original appeal which was accepted by Judge Lloyd of the First-tier Tribunal. The Judge moved that, after considering the full breadth of his circumstances, it was a breach of his Human Rights to return him to Singapore. The Judge followed Section 6 of the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998, which states that no public body should act in contravention of an individual’s rights as enshrined by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the UK is a signatory. The relevant part of the Convention is Article 8. The Judge also considered Sections 117A-117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 which instructs Courts and Tribunals on what to consider and how to approach various issues when dealing with an appeal in which Human Rights arguments have been raised. The Judge took into consideration every aspect of Dr Ong’s life and decided that the Home Office’s decision was unfounded.
The Home Office have doubled down on their position and have sought to appeal to the Upper Tribunal to reconsider this decision by the First Tier Tribunal. Their actions have been labelled as ‘incomprehensible’ by the British Medical Association.
What happens next
This could end up being a very long process. Although the initial First-tier Tribunal’s result was in Dr Ong’s favour, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case in the latest review. If the senior First-tier Judge disagrees with the Home Office, they may still decide that they want to appeal directly to the Upper Tribunal. If the Senior Judge agrees with the Home Office’s grounds of challenge (which have not been disclosed to Dr Ong’s lawyers), the Upper Tribunal will have a preliminary hearing on whether to open up the case (from scratch) again. This will mean that Dr Ong and his immigration advisor will have to return to court to fight for this case for the second time.
Dr Ong’s lawyer, Daud Ouattara, insists that this case was not advocated on the basis that Dr Ong was ‘exceptional’ or that there was ‘shortage of GP’s in the UK’. He insists that it is purely a case of breaching Dr Ong’s human rights in light of all the circumstances, and the First-tier judge’s decision is clear on that. Ouattara has advocated in this type of appeal for four other doctors facing deportation by the Home Office recently. In every case, the judge favoured the appellant.
IAS will continue to support Dr Ong’s legitimate attempt to remain in the country that he feels he has made his home.