A woman who was told she was not British by the Home Office after living her entire life in the UK is to be given citizenship.
Cynsha Best, 31, was born in Hammersmith, has always lived in London, and grew up believing she was British. But BuzzFeed News revealed earlier this year that she was detained for seven hours by the Home Office and asked to leave the country. Subsequently Best says she was told she could either leave voluntarily or apply for expensive leave to remain in the country for a finite period.
In July, the day after BuzzFeed News reported her case, a petition calling on the Home Office to show clemency in Best’s case was started – and soon gained almost 50,000 signatures.
Now, after almost 10 months of waiting, during much of which she was barred from working or claiming benefits, she has been told she is about to be given citizenship.
“I just feel relieved now that actually everything is going to be sorted soon. I can get a job and start living my life again,” she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s been a stressful few months and I’m glad that it’s over.”
As the Home Office came under intense political pressure to solve the case in July, an individual case worker at the department contacted Best saying he would like to resolve the situation and that she should apply to register as a British citizen. Best said it was the first time she had a named case worker and that it was very different to her previous experience with the Home Office. She describes previously being told that she needed to apply for leave to remain or make a voluntary departure.
After chasing her case worker last week, she received a reply saying: “I am pleased to report that the application was approved late on Friday. You should get your paperwork through shortly about arranging a citizenship ceremony.”
She was with a friend when the email came in on her phone and said she could hardly contain her excitement. “I was screaming and I jumped on my friend,” she said.
Sarah Jones, Best’s MP, who lobbied the Home Office on her behalf, said: “Delighted that sense has prevailed for Cynsha, she should not have had to go through this trauma. My concern is that this is not uncommon – only today another constituent has come to me who has been in the UK since she was 2 in 1961 and has just been told she has no right to live here. This is not the commonsense, fair, and managed immigration system we need.”
Shahista Akbar, Best’s lawyer, believes that if BuzzFeed News had not reported the story, Best would be in a very different position. Speaking earlier this year, when it first became apparent the Home Office was likely to resolve the case, she said: “The media attention has helped. If it had been any other person it would just be a case of making a leave to remain case.
“The type of intervention [from a Home Office case worker] is very uncommon. We’ve had other people with an MP involved and it doesn’t help.”
Akbar said the Home Office had done a “complete 360” on the case: “Somebody had just listened and taken charge of the situation and advised her what the best course of action is. Normally you’re not dealing with one particular person, so that’s really helped.”
Posting an update on Tuesday to a petition to keep Best in the UK, Best's cousin Vinna wrote: “Thank you to everyone who supported #Justice4Cynsha. Her application for citizenship is now approved.”
A single mother with two boys aged 9 and 5, Best says she first discovered that she wasn’t British when she went for an interview about her proposed marriage to her Barbadian boyfriend Andre.
It was then that the Home Office told her she was not, in fact, British and detained her for lengthy questioning.
Best assumed she was British because five generations of her family now have citizenship, after her grandparents moved to the UK in 1956. Her four siblings are all British because they were born before 1983 – when the law changed to say that even if you are born in the UK, you are not automatically a citizen if your parents are not British at the time of your birth.
Since her immigration nightmare began in February, she has not been eligible to work. In June her benefits were stopped, and she says she got so behind in her rent she was under threat of eviction.
Before BuzzFeed News highlighted the case, a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Best’s living costs and immigration fees had just £700. In the end, more than £5,883 was donated, which Best has been living from while she has been barred from work or benefits.
Despite that help, the wait has been a struggle. “I was depressed for some time and was on antidepressants,” Best said. “I just felt really low. I’ve been on antidepressants for about four months now.
“It could’ve been sorted in a different way. If I’d known before when I was younger it would have been so much easier. The way I found out was just awful.”
Best says she has not seen her partner Andre since his visa ran out in April and he returned to Barbados. She speaks to him on the phone but everything has been thrown into uncertainty by her immigration status, which has barred her from travelling to see him.
“As soon as I heard the news I called him and my mum and my siblings. He’s really happy and his mum is really happy. When I told her she said it was the best news she’d heard all year."
She added: “At the minute I want to get the citizenship ceremony out of the way and then we’ll work on the relationship.”
John Coventry, of GoFundMe, said: "This is great news for Cynsha and her family and we're thrilled for them that this uncertainty has lifted. This year we've seen a number of cases where people’s lives have been been thrown into periods of turmoil by decisions over which they have no control and they've turned to GoFundMe – in these cases the generosity of donors is always incredibly moving."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office has resolved Ms Best’s case and she has been granted citizenship.”