Parkinson’s disease walking aid developer told she has fourteen days to leave the UK

A prize winning graduate developing a walking aid that could transform the lives of thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease has been told she must leave the UK after the Home Office refused to renew her visa on a technicality (iNews, 2017).

Neha Shahid Chaudhry, 24, has won nearly £100,000 of investment as well as interest from the NHS and patient groups for her pioneering smart walking stick which tackles the problem of limb freezing that affects many with Parkinson’s. The Bristol-based student entrepreneur developed the product after seeing her grandfather in her native Pakistan afflicted by the symptom, which leaves Parkinson’s sufferers temporarily immobilised while trying to walk. The severity of the symptoms that many people with Parkinson’s say it can inhibit them from wanting to leave home.

Among the features of the aid, which sends a discrete vibration through the user’s hand to trigger mobility, is an ability to collect data transmitted wirelessly to allow doctors to better understand how the symptoms affects people.

But Neha Chaudhry’s future in the UK, and along with it her ability to develop her product, has been thrown into doubt after the Home Office rejected her visa renewal application on the basis that she had mistakenly filed the wrong version of one document in a sixty six page application form.

She has now been told she must leave the country within fourteen days or file an appeal which does not automatically allow her to file the correct version of the document in question, an appointments report detailing her status as a director of Walk To Beat, the company she founded to develop her invention.

It is understood the Home Office rejected her application for a Tier 1 visa, granted to highly-skilled individuals and entrepreneurs, because the version Neha Chaudhry provided did not include a date. The correct document is publicly available online at Companies House.

The decision to serve Neha Chaudhry, who has been in Britain since 2010 as a student, with a notice to leave the UK flies in the face of the Government’s insistence that a post-Brexit Britain should be a hub for innovators from across the world. Speaking at Davos in February, Theresa May said her ambition for a “truly global Britain” was to create “a secure prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.”

Neha Chaudhry said “I was shocked and disappointed to receive the notice. Out of a 66-page form, I mistakenly provided one document that was slightly different from the one required. I hope this can be excused – there was no intention to deliberately hide anything. My work is actually intended to help people. In my time in Britain I’ve never come across anything other than encouragement. But because of this one small step, a technicality, I am about to lose all my work for the last three or four years and have to leave. It is just sad.”

Neha Chaudry, a graduate from the University of the West of England, who has won five prizes for her work including three awards for entrepreneurship, was told by the Home Office that it had not considered supporting material sent with her visa application outlining her business plan drawn up with Sysemia, the Bristol company supporting her work. Yet her invention has been widely praised and reported in local and national media. The walking stick, developed with the help of local NHS clinics for people with Parkinson’s disease, uses haptic feedback technology which communicates with the user by sensation such as vibration. Sensors in the product can differentiate between when someone has come to stop because of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, rather than of their own volition. It has also been designed to look almost no different from a normal walking stick after people with Parkinson’s disease expressed a desire for an aid that would not identify them as having the condition and make them reluctant to leave home.

Andy Sinclair, director of Sysemia, said “I find it personally very sad and frustrating that someone like Neha, who is committed and passionate about what she is doing, should be asked to leave the country. She has invented something that is socially, economically and morally a great thing to do. We have someone who is making a positive contribution to the country – are we seriously saying we don’t want a person like Neha in Britain?”

The uncertainty created by the visa refusal has meant the company has begun to see delays in the project, which it was hoped would be ready for production by the end of the year. Instead, Neha Chaudhry has had to postpone the ordering of components in the knowledge that she may be told to leave the country at short notice.

Neha Chaudry initially had her idea for the walking stick while studying for a design technology degree, spending time with Parkinson’s patients to understand their needs. She said “My granddad had the disease for seven years and it impacts on so many daily activities. He used to get stuck while we were out and I was too young to fully understand what was happening. But now I see the way the disease affects the social life of those who have it. Other products can be very obviously medical and patients don’t like the stigma that comes with them. The walking stick is designed to look as normal as possible. I think my grandfather would have found it useful.”

The Home Office said it is reviewing the case.

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