IF the Windrush scandal made me embarrassed to be British, then the follow-up story about efforts to deport a nine-year-old chess prodigy adds another smear of shame.
Shreyas Royal is described as the “greatest chess talent in a generation”. He has lived in Britain since he was three years old but has been told he must return to India, as his father’s work visa is about to expire.
His parents, Jitendra and Anju Singh, moved to south-east London in 2012, and have been staying under a tier 2 long-term work permit. “The only way Shreyas’s father would be eligible to review his visa would be to earn more than £120,000 a year,” according to reports in the Guardian and elsewhere.
The couple foolishly thought that having a potential chess genius for a son might grant them some leeway. Oh, how little they appreciate the cold contours of British bureaucracy.
Writing on the couple’s behalf, Dominic Lawson, of the English Chess Federation, called for this exceptional lad to be allowed to stay. He received a mealy-mouthed reply from immigration minister Caroline Noakes MP. She said : “While… Shreyas does show immense promise in the field of competitive chess I am afraid that there is no route, within the rules, that will allow Mr Singh and his family to remain in the country.”
A Home Office spokesperson, after first checking that they had removed their heart, said: “Every visa case is assessed on its own merits in line with immigration rules.”
Blah-de-cruelly-blah and is it time for my coffee break yet…
In the shameful Windrush affair, West Indian citizens who’d spent most of their lives in Britain were suddenly told they had no right to remain here. That scandal was in part a legacy of Theresa May’s time in the Home Office. She cooked up the hostile environment policy designed to make staying in the UK so difficult that people would voluntarily eject themselves from the country.
The treatment of Shreyas Royal and his family is both heartless and foolish.
Here’s the account in the heartless register. This boy has lived here for six years, his family are settled, and his father’s employer wants him to stay in a job he appears to be doing well.
But this can’t happen under the rules (stupid sub-section whatever) because his father doesn’t earn £120,000. Who on earth earns £120,000? Just about no one.
In 2015, the average UK salary for full-time employees was put at £27,600. Google doesn’t offer a more recent figure, but never mind. That one will do nicely.
Thanks to salary taboos, most Brits don’t like to discuss what they earn. I’ll happily share that “not a lot” covers it in my case. As for £120,000, that is a bar too high and too inflexible.
Here’s the account in the foolish register. Shreyas Royal has the potential to become England’s first world chess champion. That’s a big claim to rest on shoulders so young. But people who know about chess believe he really does show that potential.
Wouldn’t that be a good and enriching outcome? Even those of us who don’t play can appreciate that having a chess champion would be better than not having one.
So that’s the heartless and foolish boxes ticked. And a few more besides.
A further disappointment lies in that salary requirement. Setting such a high bar suggests that Britain is only interested in money.
No doubt it’s the sort of sky-high salary Theresa May and her buddies take for granted in Tory clubland. But money isn’t everything, and people who don’t tip over-the-top amounts into their bank account can still offer much to our country. Such as bringing up a potential chess champion.
Compare the heartless and stupid registers, and you will see this: Britain gains nothing by sticking to Theresa May’s rules but loses great potential instead. And that sounds like checkmating yourself.