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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Man Waits One Year in Airport for Citizenship

NAIROBI, Kenya -- After nearly 13 months at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Sanjai Shah can safely drop his protest and leave. He is not about to, though.

For all this time, Shah has risen promptly at 5 a.m., when the intercom announces the arrival of Kenya Airways Flight 493 from Zanzibar. He has drifted off to sleep sometime past midnight, after the last airport travelers have come and gone and the terminal that has become his home quiets down for a while.

Shah's bizarre life reflects just how far a father who dreams of sending his son to a British university is willing to go. Without the lower tuition offered to British citizens, Shah says such an education would be far beyond his family's financial reach, so he decided not to leave the airport until his new nationality was conferred.

Shah's drama has a happy ending: He received an envelope Wednesday from the British High Commission that said he would soon become a full-fledged British citizen.

Even with the letter he has waited so long for in hand, Shah did not run for the airport exit. Since June 1, 2004, he has been fearful that stepping outside the airport might somehow ruin his chance of ever reaching London. Shah said Wednesday that he would probably remain in the terminal until July 12, when he must take part in a British citizenship ceremony. It will take another week or so to get his British passport. Then he will head back to the airport, this time as a passenger, not a squatter.

Britain has some of the most complicated nationality laws anywhere. It used to be that anybody in the British Empire was deemed a subject. But revisions to the law over the years have created a variety of categories.

"We tend not to use the term second-class citizen, but obviously a British citizen has more rights than a British overseas citizen," said Louise McLean, a former British immigration officer who helps Kenyans navigate the morass.

Shah has been a British overseas citizen for decades. It made him less than a real British citizen until 2003, when a new British law enabled overseas citizens to upgrade to a full-fledged British citizen.

In 2004, Shah received a British passport and headed off to London. But he made a critical error. He bought a one-way ticket, raising the suspicions of immigration authorities at Heathrow Airport. They questioned him on arrival and eventually denied him access to the country. His passport allowed him to enter Britain for only six months, although he could have stayed indefinitely if he had been granted full citizenship once in the country.

Before he was put on a plane back to Nairobi, the ominous words "PROHIBITED IMMIGRANT" were stamped into his British passport.

Kenyan officials put him in detention when he arrived at the Nairobi airport. Once they learned the details of his plight, they allowed him to roam free in the terminal.

Before receiving his good news on Wednesday, Shah said he had the resolve to continue his airport sit-in for six more months, or even another year, however long it would take. That does not appear necessary now.

"It's been so long," he said Wednesday, as airport workers congratulated him. "But it's been worth it."