I cried when I found out I'm not a British citizen despite living here nearly 50 years and paying taxes

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‘Role model’ Nelson Shardey is an integral part of the Wallasey community.

A community ‘role model’ cried when he found out he was not a British citizen despite having lived in the UK for nearly 50 years and paying taxes.

Nelson Shardey, 75, ran Nelsons News on Borough Road in Seacombe for 31 years from 1991 to 2022 but has lived in the UK since 1977 when he first came to be an accountancy student in Southampton from Ghana. He considered himself a British citizen, paid taxes, and worked hard but in 2019, he found out didn’t have official leave to remain in the UK.

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The father, who has three adult children, was told to apply for a 10 year route to settlement but this could cost the family around £18,000. Despite having already lived in the UK for 46 years, Nelson may not get British citizenship until his mid 80s.

His family are now legally challenging the Home Office, arguing his treatment is unfair given the costs involved over the 10 year process. But if they lose the challenge they face having to pay the government’s legal fees. The Home Office said it would not be appropriate to comment on active legal proceedings.

Coming to the UK as a student, Nelson stopped getting funds to support his education following a coup in Ghana. This meant he had to find a job and started working from 7.00pm to 7.00am before attending his classes at 9.00am. He later dropped out of the course and began working full time, being given a National Insurance number and buying a house in Southampton.

However. Nelson felt it wasn’t a good life for him, put the house up for sale and moved up to Wallasey in 1990. He then set up Nelsons News in 1991 working from 4.00am to 11.00pm, sometimes even doing the paper round for customers. He’s been described as a local legend and received an award in 2007 after he saved a friend from a baseball bat attack. The community in Seacombe once rallied behind him after he was burgled.

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Nelson Shardey, 75, ran Nelsons News on Borough Road in Seacombe for 31 years from 1991 to 2022. Photo: Ed BarnesNelson Shardey, 75, ran Nelsons News on Borough Road in Seacombe for 31 years from 1991 to 2022. Photo: Ed Barnes
Nelson Shardey, 75, ran Nelsons News on Borough Road in Seacombe for 31 years from 1991 to 2022. Photo: Ed Barnes

Discussing his move to the Wirral, Nelson said: “The reason why I moved here was because the people were so friendly and down to earth. I was so welcome and everyone appreciated me and everyone was so friendly. It was like a family here. It was really great. They behaved like human beings, no difference irrespective of colour. They welcomed me, invited me to parties, everything.”

However, in 2019, Nelson applied for a passport to travel to Ghana after his mother died. To his surprise, he found out he was not a British citizen, adding: “All along, I regarded myself as a citizen. I had a bank account, I bought everything on credit. Nobody questioned my citizenship. I was called up on jury duty. I don’t see any difference between me and everybody.”

“To be honest with you, I cried indoors when the children weren’t around. I would come out full of smiles as myself. I wouldn’t show it but I was really really shocked,” he said.

Nelson ran the newsagents for another three years, retiring in 2022. He was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. He said: “I feel really let down because I haven’t just arrived in the country,” adding: “The present 10 year route, it is outrageous.”

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Having paid taxes for 46 years through his business, Nelson currently has no access to public funds or pension credits. He said: “I have worked all my life,” adding: “I want to let people know what is going on. The unfairness. All cases should be regarded on merits, not like a wholesale rule. I’m not saying I should get special treatment but I have not broken any law all along.

“It would mean a lot. This is where I call my home. My daughter is buried in Landican. When I die, I want to rest there. Everything is here, my home. I’ve got all my children here, my grandchildren. This is my home. I have worked all my life to make this place a better place to live in.”

After the decision in 2019, word got out about Nelson’s situation. His son, Jacob, said people would constantly ask questions about what was happening, adding: “People are absolutely outraged, even just from the people I told. I was getting messages saying this is absolutely crazy and disgraceful, asking how could they even do this? It was just constant. I would go to the gym and Tesco and people would ask, how’s your Dad? What’s going on with your Dad? Is he okay?

“It’s just been horrible. You wouldn’t even think it would happen to you. For something like this to happen, being mixed race you do experience the odd racism here and there but that’s from people who are idiots.”

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Despite having already lived in the UK for 46 years, Nelson may not get British citizenship until his mid 80s. Image: Ed BarnesDespite having already lived in the UK for 46 years, Nelson may not get British citizenship until his mid 80s. Image: Ed Barnes
Despite having already lived in the UK for 46 years, Nelson may not get British citizenship until his mid 80s. Image: Ed Barnes

He continued: “It goes against everything you thought and what you grew up with. You can’t comprehend how to feel. It’s just a gutting feeling. I can’t even put words together sometimes to explain how I feel. The stuff he’s done for the community and he’s been such a role model, not just for me but for like everyone else in this area too. People love him and you wouldn’t expect something like this to happen either. It’s just a kick in the teeth.”

Jacob argues there were no clear instructions back in 1977 about how to apply for citizenship. He said: “It’s a small cog in a big system. They’ve got these systems in place just to keep the wheel turning but they don’t look at the cases individually. I get that that would take a lot longer but situations like this arise.”

Legal representatives for Nelson said the Home Office in 2022 recommended Nelson be immediately granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR) due to exceptional circumstances as a result of his work in the community and time in the UK. Nelson was also told by the Home Office to apply through the Windrush Scheme as he may be eligible, but he was rejected a year later.

Nicola Burgess, from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, is representing the family in the case. She said: “There are many long term residents in the UK who for many reasons end up on the 10 year route to settlement. This is a long, complex and costly process. They are denied access to benefits and are forced to apply to extend their leave every 2.5 years for which they have to pay exorbitant Home Office fees, far in excess of the administration cost.

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“They also have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is in addition to their normal taxes and national insurance. Most go through this process unaided, without legal representation. As a result many are forced off the route and end up undocumented, in this perilous position, having to start the route from scratch.

“Nelson’s case is quite unique, not just because of the length of time he has been a resident, but for all he has achieved including the award for bravery. Even the Home Office recognise that his whole life is here. I just think on a legal level the decision to refuse him ILR is wrong and on a personal level, it’s just unfair.”

Nelson’s family said they tried to raise the issue with Angela Eagle’s office as a constituent multiple times but felt they were given the wrong advice and had hoped for more support, adding: “There wasn’t an initiative to come out and help.”

Wallasey MP Angela Eagle said: “Nelson’s treatment by the Home Office has been appalling, and my sympathies continue to be with him and his family. This is yet another example of an under-resourced Home Office wreaking havoc on an entire family, paying little attention to the financial expense, emotional turmoil and general disruption their dither and delay all too often inflicts.

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“My office and I have been in contact with the Shardey family since 2021 regarding Nelson’s case with the Home Office, but I have long known him as a highly respected and active local community member and business owner.

“I am disappointed to hear that Nelson and his family feel the support my team have provided has not been sufficient. It is certainly true that thus far it has not been successful in resolving his situation. Given that immigration advice is heavily regulated and subject to legal restriction, neither myself nor my staff are able to offer advice on immigration cases, and it is right that Nelson’s case is being dealt with by his legal team who are appropriately qualified to support him.

“It has always been my view that the Home Office should have used their discretion in this case, and given Nelson the status he deserves to continue living his life here as he has since 1977.”

The Shardey family are continuing to fight against the Home Office’s refusal to grant Nelson indefinite leave to remain but should they lose, they will have to pay the Home Office’s legal fees and some barrister’s fees, which could total as much £20,000.

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Nelson’s sons, Jacob Shardey and Aaron Shardey, have set up a Crowdfunder, in the hopes of raising enough money to pay the fees. So far, more than £7,000 has been donated. The pair said: “If Nelson is successful in his claim then there will be no legal costs to pay, so we will pay all of your kind donations forward with 50% to be donated to Wirral Foodbank and 50% to the Boaz Trust, a charity which provides accommodation and support for people seeking sanctuary in Greater Manchester and surrounding areas.”

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