Shakespeare Scholar, Detained

Why is Britain trying to deport an American who just earned his Ph.D. at U of Birmingham?

January 29, 2016

An American who recently graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham, in Britain, has spoken of his shock at being locked up in an immigration removal center after being refused permission to remain in Britain to work as a researcher.

Shakespeare scholar Paul Hamilton, who spoke to Times Higher Education from a cell at Morton Hall Immigration Removal Center in Lincolnshire, said that he had followed rules requiring him to apply for leave to remain within 10 days of the expiration of his visa. Applications cost £650 ($931).

Asked what was the first sign that something had gone wrong with the application, he said, “When [immigration officials] knocked on my door and told me they were arresting me.”

Hamilton, who graduated from Birmingham in July 2015 after completing a doctorate on Shakespeare’s influence on American literature in the 19th century, was detained on Jan. 17 after immigration officials visited his home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He said, “All they had to do was serve me papers and say, ‘I’m sorry, your application was rejected -- you need to leave the country.’ But to be arrested is just unbelievable.”

It was “absolutely heartbreaking to be arrested and thrown into a cage … in the back of a police vehicle in front of my neighbors,” he added.

Hamilton was taken to Leamington Spa police station. “The sergeant there refused to process me because he said this was completely ridiculous. And he got into an argument with the immigration officer that went on the entire afternoon,” Hamilton said.

A notice from the Home Office -- equivalent to the U.S. State Department -- given to Hamilton, seen by Times Higher Education, states that he was detained because “your removal from the United Kingdom is imminent” and “you do not have enough close ties (e.g., family or friends) to make it likely that you will stay in one place.”

“The official reason given was that I don’t have family in the area, which is the position every single international student is in …. So if you [as an overseas student] apply for further leave to remain, it means that basically they can just arrest you,” he said.

Hamilton said that he had previously booked an airline ticket to the United States with an open date in case the application should be refused, which he believes showed that he was ready to leave the U.K.

He also said friends have since raised £2,000 ($2,865) for his bail application. “The idea that I don’t have friends in the area is just ludicrous,” he added.

Hamilton said that only in the process of being detained was he served with a Home Office notice stating that his application to remain had been refused. The notice, seen by Times Higher Education, is dated Dec. 9, 2015.

The 42-year-old, originally from California, said that when detained he was in the process of applying to the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust for a research fellowship that he hoped could be hosted at Kingston University, given that he has helped to organize conferences held by the Kingston Shakespeare Seminar.

Ewen Fernie, professor and chair of Shakespeare studies at Birmingham, who was Hamilton’s Ph.D. supervisor, said that he was “shocked” by news of the detention.

“As well as being a morally serious and sensitive person, Paul is a committed student and teacher of literature who wishes to make an academic career for himself in the country where he has latterly been educated,” Fernie said.

Hamilton said that although Morton Hall staff had been “very humane,” the “procedures are all incredibly humiliating.”

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