A care worker who moved to Britain on her mother's passport nearly half a century ago when she was just five has been told she is an illegal immigrant.

Winnie Birkenhead, 52, of Burnley, Lancashire, arrived from Malaysia in 1967 and had thought she became British at the same time as her mother, Ivy, in 1968, BBC News reported.

Her late father, William Ferguson, had served in the British Army with the Royal Signals. However her employers were recently sent a letter saying she did not have a right to live in Britain.

Ms Birkenhead, a mother of two, said: "I've got a driving licence, I've got an NHS number - why was nothing picked up then? Why wasn't I told earlier and I would have done something about it.

"I've paid my way in this country and my life is here, everything is here and I just can't understand why all this has happened. It frightens me to death that somebody could come and knock on my door and take me away."

It could take as long as a year for her immigration status to be normalised and cost as much as £3,000. She has been told she might not be allowed to work during that time.

Her employer, Pride Community Care, could face a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal immigrant, the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times reported.

Amanda Balmer, her boss, told the paper: "Winnie has been through enough. It's disgusting.

"How is she meant to pay her mortgage and bills? "Surely if there was an issue this should have been sorted when she was 18. You can't just slap this on somebody 48 years later."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "All UK employers must ensure their staff have the right to work in the UK.

"It is down to Ms Birkenhead to regularise her immigration status and we will consider any application we receive."

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