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Opinion | Jeff Knight’s struggle highlights the flaws in the UK’s immigration system

Jeff knight, dubbed the ‘Heart warmer of Bristol’, has rightfully earned the title of ‘Bristol Legend’.

A mural of Jeff Knight in Stokes Croft | Credit: The Big Issue

Milan Perera, English Literature, Second Year

Jeff Knight, dubbed the ‘Heart warmer of Bristol’, has rightfully earned the title of ‘Bristol Legend’.

Jeff, a Big Issue seller near The Canteen in Stokes Croft, is an ambassador for Bristol, even being immortalised in local street art. Even Stephen Merchant, with all his roguish charm, does not come near him.

And yet, this great Bristolian has found himself in the middle of an immigration dispute with the Home Office. His treatment provides a great insight into the flawed and pernicious immigration system in the UK.

The exact details of this ongoing saga remain sketchy. Mr Knight does not wish to elaborate on the matter as his legal team is currently building up a case for him to remain in the UK.

Although it has been mentioned, the Big Issue seller has clarified that there is no impending deportation scenario.

In order to build his case to be presented to the Home Office, character references were requested. There was an immediate outpouring of support and best wishes.

He is a minimum of bother to his fellow human beings and of minimum of expense to the state.

The online petition on recently clocked 24,000 signatures, demonstrating the strength of the case.

But this sequence of events has brought to light something politicians rarely talk about with an ounce of sincerity: a convoluted immigration system which is no longer fit for purpose.

Mr Knight moved to the UK in 1998 and after living in several cities, made Bristol his home.

Chatting to each and every person with warmth and enthusiasm, it remains an enigma that someone who was not fortunate enough to have a roof over his head until 2018 could exude such positive vibes.

In November 2018, there was a crowdfunded project to buy a camper van for Mr Knight in order to get him off the streets, and it was no surprise that the public response was immediate and overwhelming.

It must be obvious by now that Jeff Knight is a splendidly cultivated individual, who eminently fits in with fabric of Great Britain. He is a minimum of bother to his fellow human beings and of minimum of expense to the state.

But herein lies the problem. There are hundreds and thousands of individuals currently living in the UK in Mr Knight’s predicament.

The Jeff Knight mural in Stokes Croft | Credit: The Big Issue

These individuals are living in anxiety, always looking over their shoulder, just in case the Home Office bundles them up and deports them to the countries from which they were attempting to flee.

As much as these individuals would like to participate in the economy by paying National Insurance and Income Tax contributions, they are condemned to a limbo state.

As a ‘compassionate’ society, we have a duty of care to help theses unfortunate human beings

They are forced to take part in a shadow economy, which only benefits the bank balances of illicit and unregulated ‘entrepreneurs’.

It takes no Milton Friedman to figure out that this shadow economy is draining the Treasury’s coffers through its tax avoidance.

Apart from creating a black hole in the economy, people who are trapped in this immigration limbo do not enjoy the best of health, both mentally and physically.

The living arrangements of some of these people are terrible, akin to modern day slavery. As a compassionate society, we have a duty of care to help these unfortunate human beings, who are unable to escape this vicious cycle.

Our immigration system condemns individuals to live in insecurity, which is a stain on our national consciousness and if that’s not enough, it hurts our economy too.

Liberal Democrats present the most cogent solution to this issue. Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats announced the most radical but practical solution to an issue where everyone seems to talk in sotto voce.

In his 2010 election manifesto, Clegg mentioned that the party had promised an earned route to citizenship for any illegal immigrant who had been in the UK for 10 years.

These couple of lines in the manifesto caused a furore, especially in the right-wing press which routinely serves up xenophobic rhetoric as a panacea to all-ills of the society. It boldly claimed that Clegg is proposing to reward law breakers with citizenship.

As it turned out, Liberal Democrats entered government with the Conservatives. All these progressive policies were unceremoniously shelved.

Perhaps it is time to think long and hard and ‘strike while the iron is hot’ to address this very British problem. The case of Jeff Knight reminds us that it is individuals, not statistics, who are counting on us to reform our broken system.

What other changes should be made to the UK's immigration system? Let us know @EpigramOpinion !