By Tom Mitchell
More than 5,400 students and members of the public have signed a petition calling for the government to reconsider its decision to deport two Durham academics.
As first reported by Palatinate yesterday, Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marín and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago, a married couple, failed in their appeals for a visa renewal because they had spent too long out of the country conducting humanitarian fieldwork.
As a consequence, they face being deported within the next fortnight, along with their 11-year-old daughter.
The pair spent 270 days between June 2014 and July 2015 in Mexico, working with victims of gang related violence and building a DNA database to help locate the missing.
The Home Office have said their work does not constitute “attending to a humanitarian crisis”, and therefore does not exempt the couple from the Tier 2 visa guidelines saying migrants must not be out of the country for more than 180 days a year.
The petition to reverse the decision, hosted on change.org, states: “Under the Home Office guidelines (art 266) the time abroad can be waived for ‘attending to a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis’.
“Ernesto’s and Arely’s treatment by the Home Office is unfair and in breach of HO regulations about humanitarian reasons for absences for those applying for residency.
“They are now facing the prospect of abruptly leaving their current academic posts and tearing their 11-year-old daughter away from the life she knows.
“Their case is very distressing on a personal level, but it also sets a dangerous precedent for other non-UK academics working in universities and doing humanitarian fieldwork abroad.”
Dean of the Durham Law School, Professor Thom Brooks, took to Twitter to urge the Home Office to reconsider.
He said: “I’m shocked to hear this news about my Durham University colleague Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin given only 14 days to leave [the] country with his family because he does international travel necessary for his impact-rich research.”
One of Dr Schwartz-Marín’s former Durham colleagues, Thom Scott-Phillips, also expressed shock at the news: “I was already disgusted by previous behaviour of the UK Home Office, but it shocks you again when it’s someone you know.
“Ernesto was an outstanding colleague when I was at Durham. Makes me ashamed of my own country.”
In a previous interview with Palatinate, Dr Schwartz-Marín said he believed that “the whole system is designed to discriminate against academics”, adding: “I think with Brexit this is going to be happening a lot more.”
Francis Pritchard, Hon. Secretary of the Durham University and College Union (UCU), told this newspaper: “Durham UCU deplores the attempt to deport Dr Schwartz-Marín and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago.
“We feel it is symptomatic of [a] lack of understand[ing] by government of how universities and academics operate, particularly with regard to field work.”
When asked for comment yesterday, Durham University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Social Sciences and Health), Professor Tim Clark, said: “We have very recently been made aware of the developments of this case.
“We are not able to comment on personal circumstances. However, we are committed to supporting our staff wherever possible and we are providing such support in this instance.”
Photograph: Jessica Sequera via change.org