A nine-year-old chess prodigy from India has been told he must leave the UK when his father’s work visa expires, prompting calls from MPs for the Home Office to intervene to avoid losing an “exceptional talent”.
Shreyas Royal has lived in the UK since he was three but has been told he will be sent back to India when his father’s work visa expires in September.
His parents, Jitendra and Anju Singh, moved to south-east London from India in 2012. They have been staying under a tier 2 long-term work permit. The only way Shreyas’s father would be eligible to renew his visa would be to earn more than £120,000 a year, which he does not.
The couple appealed to the Home Office on the grounds that Shreyas is a national asset, but received a letter this week saying that while the nine-year-old showed “immense promise” it did not mean he could remain in the country.
“I was not expecting that kind of response,” said his father. “[The Home Office] have a rule to allow exceptional talent here. They need people like my son in the UK. It is really shocking for us that the application and appeal was rejected.”
He added: “It’s disappointing for us. My son is feeling very bad right now. He is playing at the British Championships at the moment. He feels bad and we have to console him.”
The decision has prompted MPs to urge the Home Office to reconsider. The Labour MPs Rachel Reeves, a former junior chess champion, and Matthew Pennycook, who represents Greenwich and Woolwich where Shreyas lives – have written to two cabinet ministers urging them to let the nine-year-old stay as he attempts to become England’s first world chess champion.
In a letter to Sajid Javid, the home secretary, Reeves and Pennycook said: “The only way Shreyas’s father would be eligible to renew his visa would be to earn more than £120,000 a year. As a result, despite his employer wishing him to continue working on his current projects, there is no mechanism for him to apply to remain in the UK. The family faces being forced to leave the only home Shreyas has ever known in less than two months’ time.”
The MPs added: “If Shreyas Royal is forced to leave the UK 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 and his family the right to remain in the UK.”
They wrote a similar letter to Jeremy Wright, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.
The young chess prodigy and his family have been told they have to leave by 10 September.
Shreyas, nicknamed Shrez, was described by Chris Ward, a chess grandmaster and former British champion, as “the best prospect the country has ever seen”.
These words were echoed by Malcolm Pein, director of international chess at the English Chess Federation and the current England team manager, who said Shreyas was “the greatest British chess prospect in a generation”.
Shreyas started playing chess aged six and learned the game at an after-school club, going on to become the world’s youngest “candidate master”. In August 2017 he was ranked joint fourth in his age group at the World Cadets Chess Championships in Brazil. In his short time playing he has won multiple awards.
The sport’s international body, World Chess, has stepped in to give Shreyas the honour – usually reserved for world leaders or other senior officials – of making the first move in an upcoming match featuring the world champion Magnus Carlsen this November.
In a letter responding to Dominic Lawson, of the English Chess Federation, who called for Shreyas to stay, Caroline Noakes, the minister for immigration, said: “Whilst Shreyas does show immense promise in the field of competitive chess I am afraid there is no route, within the rules, that will allow Mr Singh and his family to remain in the country.”
Reeves said: “He performs outstandingly in adult competitions, breaking UK records in the process. He is ranked the fourth best chess player in the world for his age and won a silver medal for England at the under-8 European Championship. As a result of his unique ability, Shreyas is recognised by the English Chess Federation as the country’s greatest prospect in a generation.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Every visa case is assessed on its own merits in line with immigration rules.”