Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of putting the UK’s reputation for higher education and research at risk by denying visas to highly skilled professionals married to British citizens.

The accusations came to light as part of a letter Corbyn sent to the Home Office in support of an American woman’s visa appeal. Jennifer Wexler is an American citizen who has been living in the UK with her British husband for 11 years. During this time, Wexler gained her Masters and Ph.D. in Archaeology from University College London. She then went on to gain a prestigious role with the British Museum in London. She applied for Indefinite Leave to Remain but had her application refused.

As part of the Indefinite Leave to Remain rules, there are limits on the number of days an individual can stay outside of the UK. As her work involved international travel, often lasting longer than the permitted allowance, Wexler fell short of this in her application. According to Wexler: “The reason for the denial is the number of days I have spent out of the country. But all of my so-called absences have been explicitly related to archeological research and work that was affiliated and sanctioned by UK institutions.”

The Home Office concluded that it wouldn’t be a hardship for Wexler to return to the United States and apply for a Spousal Visa. Alternatively, the Home Office suggested that Wexler and her British husband could leave the UK and move to the “United States of American [sic]”. Her husband is also a highly trained archeologist.

Wexler’s lawyer identified other cases where applicants have been penalized for leaving the country as part of their work. Caseworkers are able to exercise discretion and waive periods spent outside of the UK as part of Indefinite Leave to Remain applications, but Corbyn accuses the Home Office of failing to exercise discretion for academics. He said: “This is far from a one-off case: there are many academics who have to travel overseas to properly conduct their research and the Home Office should be more flexible.”

The Home Office did not provide a comment on the case as the appeal is ongoing.

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