By Eugene Smith
Two Durham University academics face being deported within the next fortnight, Palatinate can reveal.
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.
The anthropologist and human geographer, whose 11-year-old daughter is also being forced to leave, are both Mexicans who have lived in the UK for years.
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.
Under Tier 2 visa guidelines, non-EU migrants in the UK cannot spend more than 180 days outside the country, unless they are “attending to a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis”.
Dr Schwartz-Marín claims that because the Mexican war on drugs has cost an estimated 160,000 lives and caused 30,000 disappearances over the last decade, their work was assisting in a humanitarian crisis.
The Home Office do not accept it as such, but in their letter to Dr Schwartz-Marín – received on Saturday – have not explained why.
Dr Schwartz-Marín told Palatinate in a phone interview he believes the Home Office are not following their own rules and that “the whole system is designed to discriminate against academics”.
He added: “I think with Brexit this is going to be happening a lot more.”
When asked for comment by this newspaper, a Home Office spokesperson said Dr Schwartz-Marín’s application for Indefinite Leave to Remain, made in October 2017, was refused “on the basis that he was absent from the UK for more than 180 days within the five consecutive 12 month period preceding the date of the application”.
“Dr Schwartz-Marin’s application for an administrative review of the decision has been dealt with and the decision upheld on 8 March 2018,” they added.
“Anyone without valid leave to remain is expected to leave the country voluntarily, or face removal action if they don’t.”
Francis Pritchard, Hon. Secretary of the Durham University and College Union (UCU), told Palatinate: “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.
“We will naturally support Dr Schwartz-Marín and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago to the best of our ability, and we have been in touch with our regional and national officers.”
Attention was first drawn to the pair’s plight by a Twitter post shared by barrister Jolyon Maugham QC, which outlined the situation and said: “All legal avenues seem to have gone. At a personal level this is horrendous.”
Maugham, who has written about migrant rights for The Guardian and whose post has been retweeted over 3,000 times, commented: “The rules exist to stop those who don’t meaningfully live here from getting permanent residency.
“This xenophobic Government seems to be being [sic] applying them to kick out academics whose work involves significant foreign travel.”
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.”
Dr Schwartz-Marín has lived in the UK since 2007, the year he started a Master’s of Science in Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter.
The anthropologist was awarded a PhD in the subject from the same institution in 2012.
He has since authored or co-authored thirteen peer-reviewed journal articles, encyclopaedia entries and book chapters.
He and Dr Cruz-Santiago wrote an opinion editorial for the Al Jazeera news network based on their fieldwork on the use of forensic technologies to search for the people who have “disappeared” in Mexican gang related violence.
The full, original post shared by Jolyon Maugham QC can be viewed below:
Featured photograph and portrait: Jessica Sequera via change.org