Who Should Get to Stay in the UK? review: moving dispatches from the immigration front line

Michael Hogan
Dillian, Michael McGarvey, Ekane, Sylvia, Gary McIndoe, Marc, Stephen Slater, Valeriya and Jules Motcho - BBC
Dillian, Michael McGarvey, Ekane, Sylvia, Gary McIndoe, Marc, Stephen Slater, Valeriya and Jules Motcho - BBC

Our immigration system is enough to reduce decent people to tears – and that’s just the lawyers who have to deal with this Kafka-esque labyrinth. Imagine how the applicants feel. Who Should Get to Stay in the UK? (BBC Two) was a sobering insight into its endless loopholes and ever-changing rules. 

As the Home Office groans under the strain of the 700,000 applications made by non-EU citizens last year, this three-part series followed individuals desperate to remain in the country and the lawyers trying to help them. In a sort of high-stakes, debate-stoking reality show, this opening episode tracked a trio of contrasting cases. 

Valeriya  - Credit: BBC
Valeriya Credit: BBC

Resembling a cross between Kim Kardashian and Melania Trump, Valeriya was a rich Russian student hoping that the bank of mum and dad would help her to set up a fashion label and secure an entrepreneur’s visa. One slight problem: her business plan had more holes than Swiss cheese.

At the other end of the scale, Dillian was seeking asylum after fleeing persecution – not to mention a gun attack – in Trinidad & Tobago for being gay. It was down to long-suffering Legal Aid lawyer Mike McGarvey (the secret weapon of this show) to make sure this “Walter Mitty” character’s case was watertight. 

Finally, there was Rashed, who had an aggressive case of Crohn’s disease and would die if he was deprived of vital medicine that he could not access at home in Bangladesh. 

Striving for balance, this documentary sometimes sent out muddled messages. Statistics detailed the whopping costs of processing applications, housing asylum seekers and treating them on the NHS, while campaigners were at pains to point out how they were a benefit, not a burden. The BBC does tie itself in knots sometimes. It has more in common with the Home Office than it thinks. 

Dillian  - Credit: BBC
Dillian Credit: BBC

In the end, the right people won. Valeriya was still awaiting a verdict, but Rashed and Dillian were allowed to stay, which might save both of their lives.

This was an intimate, moving film which, without descending into mawkish sob stories, personalised an issue that is too often reduced to cold, hard numbers. After all, as Rashed’s impressive lawyer Ousman Noor pointed out, human rights should be about human beings.