In this first episode of the Sable International UK Citizenship Podcast Series, Mishal Patel, Director of Sable International’s Citizenship and Immigration division, discusses his own path to UK nationality and some of the uncommon routes available due to old colonial ties.

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Recorded on 1 June 2021.

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Episode transcript

(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity)

Tallulah van der Made:  Hello, and welcome to the first episode of The Sable International Citizenship Podcast. My name is Tallulah, and I'm here with Mishal Patel, a British citizenship and immigration expert and director of our Immigration and Citizenship division. 

Today, Mishal is going to be talking about his own journey to British citizenship. Now, we're doing this virtually because I'm sitting in the South African office with our content team. And Mishal is in the UK. But maybe in a future episode, when travel restrictions are lifted and we're all vaccinated, We'll be in the same office.

So, you're an immigrant yourself and now you help immigrants to move to the UK. But maybe you can tell us how you got your citizenship?

Mishal Patel:  Sure, yeah. Absolutely. Couldn't have said it in a better way. You know, most of our consultants are actually from various parts of the world themselves. Even if I look at my team, I'm one of many migrants that works in that team. So, it's really a firm that's for migrants run by migrants to a certain degree. 

I think for us, we do realise, and we do feel it in our DNA, we actually know how people feel.

I think that gives us a real unique insight into not just the whole law and the casework behind it, but also how sensitive it is. How important it is. How crucial it is. How close to the heart it is that one's time in the UK is as smooth, and the processes are smooth. Because it's such a massive part of one's life, especially a migrant that's come in, you know, on a visa journey, perhaps. So I think for us, we do realise, and we do feel it in our DNA, we actually know how people feel. I think that gives us a real sort of winning point with our clients. But it all comes down to each individual story, and my story is no different. 

In short, I'm not from the UK. You can probably tell by my accent, it's very mixed. I'm actually from Kenya. For those who don't know, that's East Africa. So, with Kenya, it used to be part of the UK and then it gained independence, which was in December 1963. So I was born there and my father was born there and his parents, much like your East African Indian sort of generation, they came from what was then British India and settled in East Africa. And, oddly enough, at the time of my birth in Kenya, I was actually born stateless, would you believe? So I actually had no nationality. I was actually not recognised as a Kenyan by Kenya because they only gave Kenyan citizenship to people who are born to Kenyan citizens. My father was British when I was born –  he was a BOC, a much unknown word really, a British Overseas Citizen. And my mum was, much to her surprise, she was also British, but we'll get into that a little bit later. So I was actually born stateless. I had an A4-sized document that had my picture on it and it said I was stateless and I used that to travel, as a travel document of a type really. And that's why I can relate to those things because I actually had no nationality.

TV: Yeah, you know that feeling of not belonging anywhere, not having a place where you have the document to say, "This is my home".

MP: Correct. Exactly that. And it still happens to this very day. You have children who are still born stateless, who find themselves stateless as I was. And that's one of the reasons I got into this type of work is because of what this firm was able to do for me. I want to emulate that for others. And that's our ethos behind me and my team here at Sable. But the journey really started at that point, where I was stateless and eventually, fast forward a few years, ended up getting Kenyan citizenship by registration, and I became a Kenyan. 

But, you know what actually ended up happening is, in my teenage years, unfortunately we faced a family tragedy. My dad actually passed away. And my mom was really faced with the opportunity at that stage to either try her hand at raising us in Kenya (I have a smaller sister), or try her hand at coming to the UK, where she had some family.

Now, she chose the latter, which is a more difficult approach. But, you know, it seems to have worked out, clearly. But my mom was born in Yemen. Modern day Yemen. She was born in a small town called Aden and it was on the coast of what is now Yemen, itself a British colony. And she never looked into it herself. She never wanted to get a British passport. Now, faced with raising two kids in Kenya, she had to face up to that possibility of having to move to the UK for a better life. Much like everybody else right now, in certain countries, wanting to move to the UK for a better future for their children. So, she went on that path, and she got in touch with a local lawyer in Kenya, who actually put her in touch with Mr Philip Gamble

Now, for those of us on this podcast or listening to this, who don't know, Mr Philip Gamble, he is the founder of what was Philip Gamble and Company, then they merged into Sable International, then that's how we are to this very moment. But Philip Gamble was – is – the world's leading authority in terms of British nationality, and my mentor really. 

She goes, "Are you having a laugh? Is this a scam or something?"

He managed to book my mom an appointment. She travelled to the UK by herself, left us back with family friends in Kenya after what had happened, and she ended up booking an appointment to see him in his Croydon branch. Obviously, this lady's never travelled, let alone travelled by public transport. She ended up coming to the meeting about half an hour late, in tears. Philip still remembers this to this very day. 

My mom's name is Dina and Philip said to her, "Don't worry, let's have a look at your paperwork. My mom takes out this birth certificate, and it looks like a British birth certificate, and he goes, "Wow, where is this from?" She says, "Oh, that's my birth certificate." He then finds out she's born in what was a British colony, modern day Yemen. He did a bit of searching and all that in the meeting. He turns around to my mom and says, "Dina, you're British."

She goes, "Are you having a laugh? Is this a scam or something?" And yeah,he actually found a route so my mom could become what we call a British Overseas Citizen. So someone who is British, but connected to a previous UK colony rather than the UK. In the modern day, you can get British Overseas passports. They look like British passports, but not they're not British citizens. 

So they ended up working together. My mom had to stay back and we were separated for quite a while, but she ended up getting her British nationality sorted. Getting a British Overseas passport, changing that to full British citizenship, and then sponsoring me and my sister to move to the UK. So that's how I first learned about Philip Gamble and then Sable International to some degree as a 16-year-old. Would you believe it?

TV:  Amazing. So you actually used the services yourself. How rare are those routes, those strange colonial routes like yours?

MP:  Not as rare as most people think actually, Tallulah. Because, you see, what it is, is if you think about it in a historical context, the UK did conquer around half the world. When it did this, it made all those people born there in those territories British. So that's everyone. Everyone born in Canada, everyone born in Australia, everyone born in Kenya, you know, modern day Malawi, modern day Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa... All those people were British subjects at some point in their life or their ancestors. Well, now, what ended up happening here is, as the British Empire was shrunk down to some degree and all these countries started wanting independence and being granted independence, the whole ideology behind it was, “If we're going to give you independence, we are going to strip away your British nationality”. 

Nowadays, we see one person with a claim to British Overseas Citizenship or British Protected Person, which is slightly different, same thing, every week, more or less.

However – there is always a however – and the however comes in at the point where some classes of people in those territories were not contained by that general rule. So they didn't lose their British nationality. Such a class of people is someone like my dad, who is actually a migrant to the Kenyan colony. Although he was born there, his parents weren't born there. So you see, when that country became independent, it didn't want to issue my dad Kenyan citizenship because he's not really from there. And that was the same situation with most other African countries, which were previous British territories. The Bahamas, for example, or the West Indies. Hence, you get a new class of British citizens, which are left over from the colonial guys and the UK are recognising them, through the efforts that we do as a firm and also just because it's the right thing, because they do have a right. So I would say, as a firm, we see one every week. Nowadays, we see one person with a claim to British Overseas Citizenship or British Protected Person, which is slightly different, same thing, every week, more or less. 

TV:  Wow. 

MP: So yeah, they're not as rare.

TV:  So, getting back to your story, how did you go from being a client to working for Philip Gamble?

MP: Yeah. So we came into the UK and obviously at that point I'd not met Philip in person. My mom had, obviously. Again, fast forward a few years and I did high school and I went into a university course to study a law degree. My mom said, "Oh, you know, Mishal, you are so kind of wayward during the summer holidays. You're doing so many different things, but not really doing anything that's substantial to what you want to do as a career. Why don't you go and intern at a solicitorship or someone like that? And I did. So I was an intern at a solicitorship in the UK. I did that for a few weeks. Then the chap said to my mom, “Okay, well, he's done here.” So I went back home and I still had about two months left. This is when I was about 19 years old. Yeah, 19 years old, I believe, or 20 – one of them. 

My mom said, "Okay, no, I know someone else. Let me call Philip Gamble and let me ask him whether he's got any vacancies and you can go and do a little bit of work for him for the remainder of the summer, while you wait for uni to open up again". So she did. I then was asked to come for an interview at the offices in Croydon with Philip Gamble. I remember having the same problem as my mom. I ended up being half an hour late. So I see Philip Gamble, obviously. Now I'm quite nervous because I'm late. He says – the first thing he says to me is – "It must run in the family". 

TV:  So he remembered your mom, he remembered that meeting.

MP:  I couldn't believe it. It was in the very same room where my mom sat a few years back. 

TV:  Amazing. 

MP:  Yeah. Then we had a quick chat and he said, "Why don't you start off next week." I said, "Great." 

For me, it's my history. It's who I am. It's in my DNA. I really want to help people in the same vein as you helped my family.

So I came back a week later and he said, "Well, we've got a basement full of old files. Your job is to de-staple them, and I want you to scan them." So I went down to the basement and, I kid you not, Tallulah, there were thousands of these files in boxes that had been stored there.

TV:  Pre-digital. So you were basically digitising all of the previous case files?

MP: Right. That's how I started off at the firm. I started doing all the admin work, including that type of work. But what I quickly learned – and having a look at my own family file as well, which was still there, from 2005 – I quickly learned how important it is, and how much of a difference you can make to a family where they have this option. Because if it wasn't for him and my mom interacting, I wouldn't be where I am and I wouldn't have these opportunities. So it's so crucial to get the right advice at the right time for any family that is looking at moving into the UK because you really just don't know until you have your proper look, especially where you've got UK-born ancestors or ancestors connected to UK territories like I have. 

I said to Philip, I said, "This is what I want to do. This is my life's calling. I know it." 

And he just laughed. He's like, "Are you sure? There's not many young people that want to read 200-year-old legal texts." 

I said, "No. For me, it's my history. It's who I am. It's in my DNA. I really want to help people in the same vein as you helped my family." So I started coming there every summer and I started really hassling him to learn everything off him and sponge off him as much as I could. And before you know it, he'd then trained me to be a caseworker, went on to become a manager and then, recently, become a director about a year and a half back and just helped thousands of families throughout the process. That's what keeps me going, really.

TV:  So what is your absolute favorite part of your job?

MP: Wow, it's hard to say, I like so much of it. Like the training aspect... but I think my most absolute favorite part of my job has to be giving hope, when the client has been told there is no hope. 

It is about changing someone's life.

Honestly, because I think that's what it was for my family. Either it was the UK, or we just had no hope, really. And I think, in all seriousness... no, I know, not I think. I know that is my most favourite part. Once or twice in my last 12 years with this firm – I just celebrated my 12-year anniversary with the firm – when I think back, I can remember two or three really key cases, key moments where I said to myself, "Wow, this is worth doing. It's not even about the money. It's about that client. We're changing their life." 

And it is about changing someone's life. With this knowledge and the expertise we have at Sable immigration and nationality, we are able to do that. We are able to take on where people have been told, "No. What are you on about? You know, it's not possible." So I think my most favorite part has been, it's proving people wrong, and really getting results for that one client that's in a quite a desperate type position.

TV:  Amazing. Thank you so much for your time. We'll be back in two weeks' time. We're going to be talking about the EU Settlement Scheme. Frequently asked questions, the things that you might not know. I think it will be interesting to listen to even for people who aren't from the EU, just to have a better understanding of the process. So yeah, well, we'll see you then. 

 

Find out if you have a claim to British citizenship by taking our easy-to-use online British citizenship assessment. Alternatively, you can get in touch with Mishal and our citizenship team at citizenship@sableinternational.com or by calling +44 (0) 20 7759 7581 (UK) or +27 (0) 21 657 2139 (SA).

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