An Indian who was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II during the COVID pandemic now faces deportation after he lost an immigration appeal in the United Kingdom.
The southeast London resident has spent the last nine years fighting to remain in the UK.
What happened?: Vimal Pandya moved from India to the UK on a student visa in 2011 and was refused re-entry after he returned home in 2014 to take a critically ill female relative to her parents.
On return, UK Border Force officials told him that his college had lost its license to sponsor foreign students, something Pandya had no information about.
The struggle: Without his original passport and other relevant documents, he has faced a tough battle, spending thousands of pounds to regularise his immigration status and also complete his studies. He now faces a mounting debt burden in addition to thousands of pounds lost in college fees, almost £40,000 so far.
Appreciation from the Queen: While awaiting permission to continue his studies, Vimal has become an integral part of the Rotherhithe community in southeast London.
As a local shopkeeper at Halai General Stores in London's Gwent Court, Pandya supported at least 50 vulnerable families with free food deliveries during COVID, which earned him a letter of thanks from Sir Kenneth Olisa, Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.
During the nationwide lockdown, he ensured that those in self-isolation regularly received food and essential supplies, visiting wholesalers every morning and delivering shopping on foot until 11.30 pm every night.
“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, referring to Pandya's situation.
What next? A Change.Org petition supporting Pandya, on 3 February, said that 42-year-old lost a hearing at the immigration tribunal and is now in talks with his lawyers for a way forward.
The Rotherhithe residents group in southeast London has vowed to continue their fight after Pandya, a beloved community member, lost the legal visa case and now faces deportation.
In support of Pandya, the residents' group has collected over 177,000 signatures through an online petition.
What has the community said?: “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 update of the Change.Org petition.
“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," it added.