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London resident group pledges to fight on for Indian man facing deportation

LONDON: A residents’ group from south-east London has pledged to fight on after a “beloved community member” lauded by the late Queen’s representative for his services over the COVID pandemic lost a legal visa battle and now faces deportation to India. The Rotherhithe Residents group have gathered over 177,000 signatures through an online petition in support of Vimal Pandya, who came to the UK from India on a student visa but was left in limbo after his education institution lost its licence to sponsor foreign students. The 42-year-old lost a hearing at the immigration tribunal recently and is now said to be in talks with his lawyers for a way forward. “We are devastated. He is devastated. But we will not give up the fight, if any path forward can be found,” the residents said in a Change.Org petition update last week. “Vimal has always shown how much he cares about the Rotherhithe community where he’s lived for 11 years. So many of us have benefited from his help and support over the years, which is why we are fighting to stop him being unjustly deported,” they say. Having arrived in the UK from India in 2011 to study, Pandya was refused re-entry following a return home in April 2014 to take a seriously ill relative back to her parents. UK Border Force officials informed him that the college at which he was enrolled had lost its right to sponsorship, but neither the college nor the Home Office had reportedly informed him of this. Then without access to his original passport and other documents he faced an uphill struggle to address the issue. Since then, he has spent thousands of pounds attempting to regularise his immigration status and complete his education, in addition to the many thousands of pounds in lost college fees and a mounting debt burden. “While awaiting permission to continue his studies, Vimal has become an integral part of the Rotherhithe community. Now he is truly indispensable, and we don’t want him to leave,” the group of his local supporters said. During the pandemic, Pandya was employed as a local shopkeeper and is said to have worked tirelessly by dedicating “every waking hour” to ensure those in self-isolation during the national lockdown received regular food and essential supplies. His community service brought him to the attention of Sir Kenneth Olisa, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, who wrote to him in February last year on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, offering thanks for his extraordinary efforts. “Everything has gone through the legal boundaries and we should respect the decision of the country but… if somebody has given so much to the country, having been rewarded by the Queen, I don’t know why they should be moved,” a resident told ‘Southwark News’. The local member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in London, Neil Coyle, spoke at a recent hearing powerfully in favour of Pandya but the judge noted that the tribunal was bound by “the laws that are passed rather than the view of one MP”.