Liew Teh is fighting to remain in the UK and fears he could end up trapped in a detention centre or deported.
The 39-year-old, who is no longer recognised as a Malaysian citizen, says there is uncertainty over what would happen if he were to return to Malaysia, whether he would be allowed to enter or ever return to the UK, the place he has called home for the last two decades.
Mr Teh, who lives in Telford, arrived in the UK in 2001 as an overseas student at the University of Wolverhampton.
Following success in his studies, including gaining a Master’s in science, he decided he wanted to stay to work and began the process of applying for citizenship in 2005. It was then that he took a decision, which was to have a huge impact on his life. He gave up his Malaysian citizenship, an act he says he took following advice from solicitors to help move the process along. However, he later found out that advice was wrong and he was now stateless. Mr Teh’s application for UK citizenship stalled and he says he was left with no right to return to his home nation. He cannot work or claim benefits and relies on the support of friends to keep going.
His British overseas passport expired in 2015 and, according to Mr Teh, who does regular volunteering work at Oxfam in Wellington and the Wolverhampton Refugee and Migrant Centre, among others, the Malaysian authorities have made it clear that people in his “situation” cannot return or regain citizenship, leaving him without anywhere to call home. He has been classed as an ‘overstayer’ in the UK, and therefore in breach of immigration laws, since 2011. Attempts have been made to contact Malaysia to correct the error but Mr Teh says his homeland has turned his back on him.
“I have been trying since 2009 when they said I was no longer a citizen,” he said. “Subsequently every year I have tried but they no longer responded after that.” The Home Office has taken a different stance, however. Mr Teh’s application for leave to remain as a stateless person was turned down in 2017. A fresh application was lodged in April last year and he is awaiting a resolution to his case.
Documents from his High Court battle in 2018 stated his application was refused in part because people who have held British overseas passports are normally allowed to regain their Malaysian citizenship in circumstances such as these.
It all means Mr Teh exists day to day with continued uncertainty of what will happen to him. His case has dragged on through the courts for years and when it does finally conclude it potentially could end with him being detained.
Despite what the Government says, Mr Teh insists there are no guarantees he would be accepted into Malaysia.
He said: “I’m anxious, there have been times when I have been stressed and depressed. But I need to stay strong. The UK is my home, my life and my friends are here.”
Despite the uncertainty, Mr Teh says he remains “confident” he will be allowed to stay in the UK as he meets the requirements. He hopes a decision will be made within six months but the nightmare has taken its toll.
He said: “I’m quite angry in a sense. Why is it so long? If the UK is in agreement for a solution then get on with it.
“They keep saying they want skilled people and I speak English. It’s possible I’m just a number to them.”
Mr Teh added: “Compared to some people in a war zone I’m still better off. That’s how I try to motivate myself.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The case is ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment.”