British Home Secretary Sajid Javid intervened Friday to prevent the Indian-born prodigy from being deported next month, when the boy’s father’s work visa expires. The Home Office previously told Shreyas’ father, Jitendra Singh, he would have to return to India for a year before he would be allowed to re-apply for another work visa.
“After carefully reviewing the evidence, I have taken the personal decision to allow Shreyas and his family to stay in the U.K.,” Javid said in a statement to Global News on Friday.
“The U.K. is a country that fosters world-class talent, and Shreyas is one of the most gifted chess players in his generation,” Javid said.
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Singh said he’s thankful for the efforts of Javid and everyone else who advocated for his family to stay in the country.
“It’s a big relief for us,” he told Global News on Friday. Singh says the family was in the process of packing up to leave the country when they heard the news.
“Shreyas jumped from the sofa and started dancing,” Singh said.
Shreyas has lived in the U.K. since he was three and has been climbing the international chess rankings since the age of six, after learning the game from his father.
Dominic Lawson, the head of the English Chess Federation, says Shreyas is the U.K.’s best junior chess prospect in 30 years.
“He’s lightyears ahead of everyone else in this country at that age,” Lawson told Global News.
The boy is now the No. 4-ranked chess player at his age in the world. He won a silver medal at the under-8 European Championship in 2016 and captured the under-14 title at the West of England Junior Chess Championships earlier this year, according to the English Chess Federation.
Lawson says in addition to being an incredible chess player, Shreyas is the kind of prospect who might inspire young people to take up the game in the future.
“He’s a very delightful, modest, well-spoken boy,” Lawson said. “It’s exactly the kind of model that would appeal to many.”
Shreyas and his family moved to London from Bangalore, India, in 2012, after Singh was issued a one-year work visa for an IT job in the U.K.
Singh was later granted a five-year extension on his visa, which covered his stay in the U.K. until Sep. 10, 2018.
However, the Home Office refused to issue him another work visa because he didn’t make more than 120,000 pounds a year – the threshold required for another visa extension under British immigration law. The Home Office said at the time that Singh would have no choice but to leave the country for at least a year, with the option of applying for a new visa from India after that time.
A handful of opposition politicians took up the family’s cause, urging U.K. lawmakers to make an exception so Shreyas could remain in the country.
“The U.K. should always encourage the world’s brightest, most talented people to work and make their living here,” Rachel Reeves, a member of Parliament with the Labour Party, wrote in a public letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid last week. The letter was co-signed by Reeves’ fellow MP Matthew Pennycook.
“If Shreyas Royal is forced to leave the U.K. and return to India, the country will lose an exceptional talent. We therefore urge you to intervene as a matter of urgency to grant Shreyas Royal and his family the right to remain in the U.K.,” they wrote.
Singh says he’s relieved by the change in course, and is looking forward to backing Shreyas in many more chess tournaments to come.
“Thanks to everyone who made this possible,” Singh wrote on Shreyas’ Facebook page.
“We couldn’t have done [this] without your love and support.”
London’s Battersea Chess Club, where Shreyas plays, thanked supporters and said the young chess player had “a big future ahead of him on the world stage, hopefully representing England.”
Immigration is a divisive issue in Britain, and reducing the number of newcomers was a major factor for many voters who in 2016 backed leaving the European Union. The Conservative government says it wants Britain to remain open to global talent, but has tightened policies in recent years in a bid to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration.
Critics say many legal immigrants to Britain have suffered as a result of excessive bureaucracy and harsh decisions. Earlier this year it was revealed that hundreds of legal long-term residents from the Caribbean had been refused medical care or threatened with deportation because they could not produce paperwork to prove their right to remain in the U.K.
Javid, who was appointed in April after the migration scandal felled his predecessor, has said the term “hostile environment” ″does not represent our values as a country.”
— With files from The Associated Press