“I should have been involved in the fight against the virus,” said Charles Oti, a Nigerian scientist facing deportation from the UK. Oti, with vast experience in infection control, has worked for four years for the National Health Service (NHS). He is currently facing deportation at a time his skills would be needed in the fight against the coronavirus.
“I believe I have the skills to make a difference,” Oti, who is a microbiologist by training, told CNN. “This has been so frustrating because I am being wasted.”
Many immigrant health workers are facing hardships in the UK while on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as they are threatened with deportation. Oti first arrived in the UK in 2013 with his European partner. He received a five-year residence permit upon his arrival and started working with the NHS in London in 2015 as a medical devices coordinator.
He loved his job, which he said helped him make new friends and to adapt to living in a new country.
However, when his relationship with his European partner ended, his residence permit was revoked without his knowledge, CNN reported. In 2017, after returning from a trip to Nigeria, he was detained at the border and ordered to leave Britain, the report added. Oti said he has since sent several applications to remain but they have all been denied. He however continued his work until 2019 when the Home Office informed the NHS that “his status was insecure”. He was suspended without pay, putting him in a very difficult situation, he said.
In September 2020, amid the pandemic, Oti got a job offer from the NHS for a new role. “I was supposed to be in a lab doing microbiology analysis,” he recalled. “There was a shortage of staff and it would have been purely Covid-19 work.”
But having been forced to stop working by the Home Office, he was not able to accept the offer. He included it in his recent application to the Home Office and the fact that he had been a victim of a hate crime. Oti was in 2014 attacked by three white men in Northampton. Despite including his attack and job offer in his application, the Home Office in January 2021 once more ordered him to leave Britain or face the threat of forcible removal.
“I don’t want to return to Nigeria. I do not have property, business, savings or immediate family in Nigeria,” said 46-year-old Oti, who has lost both parents and considers the UK his home.
Migrant rights campaigners are wondering why the Home Office would want a man with so much experience in infection control to be forcefully removed from the UK during a pandemic.
A Home Office spokesperson refused to comment on the case, saying: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
Oti’s lawyers are at the moment pursuing a judicial review of the case. A crowdfunding appeal for his legal fees has raised around $3,700.
Oti’s case has renewed calls for more humane migration rules for skilled migrants. The Nigerian scientist said before he was forced to stop working by the Home Office, he developed infection control audits that he strongly believes indirectly saved the health service more than £300,000 ($417,000) between 2015 and 2019, the Guardian reported.
Though Oti still suffers possible post-traumatic stress disorder following the 2014 attack, he said the worst thing now 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 was quoted by the Guardian.