Brian White is like many other British 21-year-olds: He goes to the pub with his friends, and enjoys swimming, reading, football, and playing a ton of video games. He's also a model student. Last year he was offered a place at Oxford University to read chemistry after achieving three A*s and an A in his A-level exams. He was over the moon, and so were his family.
“I didn’t think I’d do it," he told BuzzFeed News at his home in Wolverhampton. "I got the offer and I didn’t think I’d meet the grades. It was a double A* and an A required, and I was thinking, Can I actually do it? But I was amazed when I got the results."
You wouldn't guess from his cheerful demeanour that he was unable to take up his Oxford place and is in limbo. He may yet get to start at Oxford this year, but also lives in fear of being deported to Zimbabwe – his place of birth, but also a country where he knows no one.
White came to the UK with his parents at the age of 15. Although an immigration expert and his family think he should have been granted indefinite leave to remain in the country at that point, he was only given "limited" leave to remain.
"I didn’t actually get indefinite leave to remain on my visa, when we believe I should have," he said. "But we didn’t notice at the time."
His parents applied to naturalise him and make him a citizen a year later, but were rejected despite an appeal. Several more applications have also failed, and his most recent one is pending.
His visa expired in 2014, and he's "been trying to get status to remain ever since via different applications", he said
When he received his Oxford offer, White found out he isn't entitled to student finance because he's not a citizen, he said. "I couldn't even go as an international student without some sort of leave to remain here," he added. So as many of his friends went to university, White could not join them.
The doubts around his immigration status could mean he has to leave his family and friends behind in the UK and lose his chance go to one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Oxford deferred his place to 2017 in order to give him enough time to sort his immigration status out. But time is running out to take up the place this year and he's not sure if it can be deferred again. “The uncertainty around my immigration status put a damper on things," he said, “but we are still hopeful.”
Life was once very different for White. He said he was abandoned by his biological parents as a baby and lived in an orphanage in Zimbabwe for the first six years of his life. An American missionary then introduced him to the White family.
"They fostered me first for about six years and then they adopted me at 12," he said. "We moved to Botswana when I was about 12 or 13. We stayed there for about five years and then we moved here [to the UK]."
Despite his positive attitude, White said the situation has affected his life so much that he finds it difficult to plan for the future.
"This could all upheave and go horribly wrong very quickly, which it has with the Oxford [situation]," he said. "It's always been a worry on my mind, and it’s not even a worry about what I’m going to do in the next few months – I can’t even think that far in the future."
He added: “I try to never think about the worst coming to the worst because I honestly have no plan if that does happen. I’m just trying to focus on what I can do now to actually solve the problem. And I try to keep it off my mind because I can’t do anything.”
Going to Oxford would mean everything. White said he wants to do something productive with his chemistry degree. “It will be a chance to give back to the community, and help people out,” he said.
White’s friend Luke Wilcox launched a petition that has led to support from more than 90,000 people all over the country.
Since then, the Home Office has got in touch with White directly to say it is working on his case.
“[Wilcox] knew the petition would do amazing things, and it really has," he said. "He always thought that if he put some pressure on them then they’ll have to do something, and they’re going to have to respond sooner or later. And he was right. The support has been overwhelming.
“I didn’t think I’d ever imagine being in the position right now, with all the friends I have ... and over 90,000 people supporting me.”
Wilcox said creating a petition was a last resort to try to help his friend.
"We all went off to uni, and all his other friends went to uni," he told us. "And I almost felt guilty sitting at uni while Brian was still at home and not really getting the opportunity that he deserves.
"We all saw Brian's case and thought this is crazy and unfair. My opinion is that the Home Office let the case sit there, until we caused a bit of a fuss." Sources at the Home Office said White applied to naturalise as a British citizen in 2014, but his application was refused on 31 March 2015 as he did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK. White appealed the decision, but in December 2015 the Home Office's refusal was maintained.
BuzzFeed News also understands that in April this year White applied for indefinite leave to remain as the child of a settled parent. This application is still pending and the Home Office is working with White's legal representatives to resolve his application, which it will take up to six months to assess.
White is calling for changes to be made in terms of the way the Home Office handles immigration cases similar to his, such as having more clarity on how the process is progressing.
"It would've been nice to know when they actually started looking at the application after they'd officially received it," he said. "It would've made it less worrying to know when they started in the six-month window they had."
He added: "Everything is just being held up until these six months are over, and they come back with some sort of decision. I’m someone who has worked really hard, put in all the hard work they need to, actually got to Oxford and got the offer and everything – it’s just the Home Office in the way."
A spokesperson for the Home Office said White’s case has been dealt with correctly in line with immigration rules.
"We are helping him to resolve his application for indefinite leave to remain as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.
“We deal with millions of visa, citizenship, passport and immigration status applications each year and we are constantly working to minimise the likelihood of mistakes happening."
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Fiona Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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