Moray man (47) fighting deportation after 17 years living in the UK
Get the Northern Scot sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
A MORAY man facing deportation to his native China is appealing for community support in his bid to stay in the area he calls "my home".
Having been born in Hunan and raised in Gansu, Matthew Freeman (47) moved to the United Kingdom in 2003, three years after the death of his parents, to study for a PhD at Leeds University.
In 2012, having secured a two-year Post-Study Work Visa, he moved to Moray to work as an engineer. Originally, he lived in Forres and he now stays in Lossiemouth.
However, despite many attempts – the first of which came in 2013 – and spending tens of thousands of pounds fighting to remain in Moray, Mr Freeman has never been successful in his appeal for permanent residency in the UK.
In December, Matt was told his latest application was not valid as he sought a fee exemption. He quickly paid £2408.20 to the Home Office, as requested, but still saw his application rejected and his right to appeal taken away.
Last week, he received a harrowing letter from the UK Government which told him "you must leave the United Kingdom or you will be liable to be detained and removed". He faces jail if he does not comply.
Mr Freeman explained: "My visa situation during the past eight years has been a pattern of refusal, appeal, rejection, re-appeal, re-rejection, re-application, refusal, re-appeal.
"I believe it's because I went back to China for six months in 2011 and took out a professorship, because I have not been here continuously for ten years.
"I'm fighting for my rights, I've lived here for 17 years and it's my right to stay in this country. My parents passed away in 2000, before I moved to the UK. I have no family in China.
"Moray is very beautiful and it is my home. I am proud to claim I am Scottish Chinese.
"I believe and advocate hope, love and peace. Now it is time to show the reality of my hope."
During his time in Moray, Mr Freeman has become a pillar of the community.
Having suffered from his own mental health problems, he co-founded local charity Moray Wellbeing Hub in 2017, while, in 2018, he was elected as director at VOX Scotland, a national mental health charity.
Matthew has set up a petition so locals can help him with his fight. It now has more than 850 signatures.
"My heart has been touched," he added. "I feel grateful that so many people have supported me."
Carolle Ralph, Lossie community councillor, is one of those on Matthew's side.
"Matt has a number of friends in Moray, through Church, his walking group and his work with mental health charities," she said.
"That is his support network. He doesn't have anybody in China.
"It is heartless to remove him. This is his home."
Moray's SNP MSP Richard Lochhead said: "Matt is a popular member of the community and will be known to lots of people in Moray through his voluntary work.
“His battle for indefinite leave to remain has been going on for a number of years and has taken its toll. As his local MSP, I’ve written again to the Home Office supporting the community’s campaign for him to be allowed to stay in the country that is his home.”
Conservative MP Douglas Ross added: "Since I was elected in 2017, I have tried to support Matt's efforts for indefinite leave to remain.
"Matt is an asset to our community here in Moray. His close network of support here is important as he was diagnosed as bi-polar.
"I remain concerned about the level of mental health support he would get if he were to return to China.
"I have asked the Home Secretary to look at this case again and hope the Home Office take all these factors into consideration before making a final decision."
When asked for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said: "All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits, in line with the rules and on the basis of the evidence available."
To sign Matthew's petition, visit www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-hope-love-and-peace-after-17-years-where-is-my-hope.