A grandmother who has lived in the town for 48 years has been threatened with deportation unless she can prove she is British.
Malaysian born Winnie Birkenhead (52), of Marsden Road, Burnley, has been left having sleepless nights since being branded an illegal immigrant by the Home Office.
Winnie came to Burnley from Malaysia in 1968 aged five on her mother Ivy’s passport and with her late stepfather William Ferguson who was serving in the British Army with the Royal Signals.
She says she assumed she had British citizenship having done so but has had to pay to take an English exam as step one of proving her nationality.
Winnie, who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer, cannot work again until she receives her indefinite leave to remain which will cost more than £3,000 and could take up to 12 months. Her legal representative, Shaf Khan, of Clearwater Solicitors, has described it as a “unique” case.
Winnie said: “They could come and get me at any time. If that happens my legal representative would have to get a bail application from the High Court which would cost a fortune.
They could come and get me at any timeWinnie Birkenhead
“I’ve always assumed I was British. The army had sorted everything is what I have always been told.
“The more I think about it, the more frightened I get.
“I’m in complete limbo. It’s the not knowing. I’m on pins every time the dog barks.
“I don’t know anybody in Malaysia. I have a sister out there but I don’t know her and I can’t speak the language.”
Winnie went to Coal Clough Infants and Juniors School, Burnley High School for Girls, and has worked since the age of 16.
She currently works for Pride Community Care as a team leader, having worked for the company since 2008, and in the field of looking after vulnerable adults most of her career.
The petrified mother of two has a national insurance number, a driving licence and has had several CRB checks in her career and has been POVA checked by the Home Office.
She also cares for her mother Ivy on a daily basis who is suffering from dementia. Her boss at Pride, Amanda Balmer, is fuming at Winnie’s treatment and could also be landed with a £20,000 fine for employing somebody deemed illegal.
Amanda said: “Winnie has been through enough. It’s disgusting. How is she meant to pay her mortgage and bills?
“Surely if there was an issue this should have been sorted when she was 18. You can’t just slap this on somebody 48 years later.”
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“All UK employers must ensure their staff have the right to work in the UK.
“It is down to Ms Birkenhead to regularise her immigration status and we will consider any application we receive.”