I was invited on to the BBC World Service this evening, on their programme World Have Your Say when we talked about Gamu the Zimbabwean teenager and X-Factor contestant who has now been requested by the UK immigration authorities to voluntarily leave the United Kingdom, or be subjected to forcible removal from the country or possible deportation to Zimbabwe. Her mother's application for an extension of her visa was refused and Gamu as a dependant under her mother's application is affected, just as much as her mother and her two younger brothers by the UK Border Agency's decision.
Last weekend Gamu was axed from the ITV talent contest when one of the judges on the show, Cheryl Cole (Tweedy), made her decision in favour of two other contestants who, it is widely believed, were less deserving than Gamu. The decision has given rise to a furore and there is even a Facebook campaign supported by nearly a quarter of a million people clamouring for the singer to be allowed to stay in the UK and continue in the show. Claims have been made that Ms Tweedy's decision was influenced by the looming visa crisis surrounding Gamu and any potential impact this might have on the show if she were allowed to continue as a contestant. It has been rumoured that UK Border Agency officials met with X-Factor bosses before the decision was made.
Widely reported is the fact that Nokuthula, Gamu's mum was refused by the immigration authority because she did not satisfy the criteria laid down by the UK Immigration Rules and therefore she, like every other such person, must depart from the country as soon as her visa expires. This is the reason given for the refusal in most of the reports I have seen. Not so widely reported however is the allegation in the publication New Zimbabwe, citing The Sun. The report is that the order to leave the country was the "result of an investigation into £16,000 in benefits wrongly claimed by the [Gamu's] mother". The mother is said to have received benefits and tax credits for her children - but her visa rules strictly forbid her from any state payouts.
While I do subscribe to the notion that immigration rules are universal and must be applied in a consistent manner to every person, I do also believe that there is an inherent discretion vested in the Secretary of State for the Home Department to grant leave to remain outside the immigration rules, especially in particularly compelling circumstances, even if that leave is limited leave, i.e., for a limited period. I take the view that Gamu's case is one of a kind and one in which this discretion ought to be exercised favourably. It is obvious to many of us that her departure from the X-Factor has been caused by her immigration difficulties. But it is apparent to us too that X-Factor 2010 is greatly diminished without Gamu as a contestant. Requiring her to leave the UK is not in the public interest.
Interestingly when I had my chance to state my view to a worldwide audience on the BBC World Service this evening, I found that while on air I was tongue tied. Very strange indeed, given that running out of words does not happen to me very often, as I seem always to have something to say..