A postgraduate Brighton student is in detention and faces deportation because he fell foul of a technicality which left him in breach of his visa while working as a taxi driver.
Shukaib, 23, who came to the UK from Afghanistan in 2011 and who is said to be considered a model student by his University of Brighton tutors, was taken into custody after a raid at City Cabs in Queens Road on Saturday evening.
His visa does allow him to work part time, but only as a direct employee – and although he worked exclusively for City Cabs, he did this on a self-employed basis, putting him in technical breach of its conditions.
Immigration checks made by Brighton and Hove City Council when it granted his personal taxi licence two months ago did not pick up on this issue – and City Cabs itself is not allowed to make them as he is not an employee.
He is now in detention at Gatwick awaiting deportation with no right of appeal, but is pinning his hopes on a favourable Home Office response to representations made by his lawyers on his behalf.
His caseworker Raj Rayan of James & Co solicitors said: “Shukaib’s case results from an entirely innocent and minor misinterpretation of his employment with City Cabs in Brighton.
“The decision of the Home Office is an entirely discretionary one, but unlike others in similar situations Shukaib was not warned that his work may be considered self-employment, he was not asked to stop work, no relevance was placed on the fact the local council had authorised his work with the taxi company, but instead he was immediately detained.
“These extremely unfortunate circumstances are compounded by the fact that for nine years Shukaib’s family in Afghanistan have worked closely with the American and British forces during the conflict in his home country.
“He has now acquired skills which would be of invaluable assistance to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure in Afghanistan. However the fact that it appears as if he will now be prevented from completing his Masters will be a serious impediment to his future career.
“We have also been told by the University that should he not be allowed to continue his studies there is likely to be a detrimental impact on his fellow postgraduate students for whom he is a group leader.
“Due to dramatic restrictions made by the current government to immigration cases Shukaib has no right of appeal against the decision made against him. We have however submitted representations requesting that the Home Office exercise their discretion to reverse their current decision. We are still awaiting a response to our request.”
Andy Cheesman from City Cabs said Shukaib is a “lovely guy”. He said: “He came to me fully licensed – he has a full passport, he’s passed the police checks, national insurance number, all those things he should have for the council to give him a licence.
“The office was raided on Saturday and all 250 drivers were looked at, and this one driver was taken away. As a taxi firm we are not in trouble whatsoever.
“He’s a lovely guy, he’s a genius. He’s doing a masters at Brighton University and working on a big project in construction – he’s a very clever boy.
“He spent thousands of pounds getting all his gear and his licence, and now this happens.”
The Home Office said it took Shukaib into custody after “acting on intelligence”.
Assistant Director Richard Lederle, head of the Kent and Sussex Immigration Enforcement Team, said: “We will not relent in our efforts to arrest and detain immigration offenders in Sussex.
“This operation serves as a warning, as those we arrest face being removed from the UK.”
A council spokesperson said: “Licensing authorities already conduct checks to determine whether someone is ‘fit and proper’ to hold a driver or operator licence. However, they have discretion over the type of checks made and although many conduct immigration checks, these are not mandatory.
“Brighton and Hove does carry out these checks but it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that they are working legally in the UK.”
A spokesperson for the University of Brighton said: “This is a matter for the Home Office and it would be inappropriate for the university to comment.”