A Burnley grandmother branded an illegal immigrant and threatened with deportation has won her right to stay in the UK after “a year of hell”.
Winnie Birkenhead (53), of Marsden Road, said it was a “big relief” to finally receive her definite leave to remain after 12 months of sleepless nights and worry.
The mother-of-two’s world was turned upside down a year ago when her then employer at Pride Community Care, Amanda Balmer, received a letter from the Home Office demanding proof that Winnie was British and was allowed to live and work in the UK or the business could face a five figure fine.
This despite Winnie having been in the country 48 years after arriving in Burnley from Malaysia aged five in 1968 on her Malaysian mother Ivy’s passport and with her late Scottish stepfather William Ferguson.
She went to Coal Clough Infants and Juniors School, Burnley High School for Girls has worked since she was 16.
Winnie, a mental health team leader fighting breast cancer and receiving NHS treatment at the time of the bombshell news, also 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 in the past.
Winnie is simply trying to get her life back on track now that her confirmation has come through.
Winnie said: “I’m still here and I’m back at work. I’m just getting my life back.
“They could have come and got me at any time.
“It’s just a huge relief that that threat is not there any more. I was completely in limbo and was made to feel like a criminal.
“I’ve not been able to work or claim any benefits. I even wanted to do some voluntary work through the CVS but the Home Office said that I couldn’t even do that.
“I was frightened to even go and collect my prescriptions and had somebody else pick them up for me just in case they wouldn’t allow me to collect my tablets.
“It’s been a long year but I have got through it just about.”
The ordeal has left her thousands out of pocket, however.
Because Winnie could not work, she lost out on £18,000 a year in wages and her partner had to work six or seven days a week to keep the funds coming in.
Her mortgage had to be frozen, she has thousands of pounds worth of solicitor’s fees to pay and expects to have a bad credit rating for a number of years.
But Winnie, who helps care for her dementia-suffering mother, has now started a new job a Lawwood Residential Home in Todmorden Road.
Winnie added: “I wouldn’t have through it but for the support of family and friends, the fund-raising and complete strangers all over the world getting in contact.
“Amanda at Pride was fantastic at the beginning too.
“I now have a new job. I wanted a fresh start.”