He should be in his NHS job fighting the virus. Instead, the Home Office wants to send him to Nigeria
An infection control specialist who has been offered a job as a senior NHS biomedical scientist to help tackle the pandemic is facing deportation by the Home Office, prompting fresh calls for a more “humane” approach to skilled migrants.
The government has refused Charles Oti, 46, from Nigeria the right to remain in the UK even though the job he was offered is among the government’s most sought-after skilled positions.
Its current list of “skilled worker visa: shortage occupation” has “biological scientists and biochemists” in second place, with acute shortages identified in all four nations across the UK.
However, the Home Office – which recently accepted that Oti suffered experiences akin to torture during a racist attack in Northampton – said he faced being deported because he did not have the correct documentation.
Its decision forced Oti, who is in a relationship with a British NHS worker, to stop working for the NHS pre-pandemic as a co-ordinator for its infection control and medical devices directorate, whose remit is to tackle contamination in clinical settings such as hospitals.
“My job is about helping people, and it has been extremely frustrating not being allowed to contribute during this pressing vital period. I should have been involved in the fight against the virus as a biomedical scientist and part of the Covid team,” said Oti.
Campaigners said the case exposed ongoing concerns with the Home Office’s immigration rules.
Details of Oti’s case emerged as calls are being made for migrant NHS workers to be given indefinite leave to remain in honour of the recognition of their work during the pandemic, in a service that relies on 170,000 foreign-born staff from more than 200 countries.
A recent report revealed that dozens of highly skilled migrants from Commonwealth countries are facing deportation nearly two years after the court of appeal ruled that the Home Office was acting unlawfully in refusing them leave to remain.
It also follows the emergence last week of proposals by home secretary Priti Patel to send asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to overseas bases to be processed, a plan dismissed by campaigners as “utterly reckless”.
Commenting on Oti’s case, Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “It’s clear that we need much fairer and more humane migration rules which allow people to settle and build their lives here, instead of subjecting them to an endless see-saw of fees, forms and hostile immigration rules which make their lives unliveable.”
Until he was forced to stop working by the Home Office, Oti – whose parents are both dead and whose siblings are residing abroad with their families – says he developed infection control audits that he believes indirectly saved the health service more than £300,000 during his four years working between 2015 and 2019.
Singh added: “People who choose to live and work in the UK deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but as Charles’s experience shows, the Home Office makes life a minefield for many migrant workers.”
Oti’s lawyers believe the Home Office has not factored in the NHS job offer and say the fact he was a victim of a serious racist attack should have influenced its approach to the case. Following a medical inspection which concluded that Oti “may have been a victim of torture”, he was released from Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow on 20 January last year.
The 2014 hate crime involved Oti – who has no criminal record and has adhered to all Home Office rules since his arrival in the UK nine years ago – being lured to a basement in Northampton by three white men.
According to Home Office documents, the men “attacked [Oti] with a blunt instrument, then beat you. You were tied to a chair, stripped naked, and then you passed out.”
Oti was dumped on the street, found by a passerby and taken to hospital but continues to suffer flashbacks and possible post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The worst thing though is not being able to work. Mentally it’s been really difficult and I’ve needed therapy. I’ve become very emotionally down, unable to get out of bed or feed myself,” he said.
Oti, also a trained microbiologist, arrived in the UK nine years ago after travelling abroad, including working for a number of years in China.
“I consider the UK my home and have created many close friends and personal connections I regard as family members,” he said. “I don’t want to return to Nigeria. I do not have property, business, savings or immediate family in Nigeria.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”