Passports not Profits
Home Office profiteering leaves 65,000 children with the right to citizenship in limbo: South London Citizens led on the organisation of an action outside the Home Office just before Christmas, 2017.
A Letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, delivered by more than a hundred children and young people, urges her to cut the cost of British citizenship for children.
This year the Home Office stands to make almost £24* million profit from children registering for British citizenship. Most were born or bred in the UK of migrant parents and need citizenship to fully contribute to the society that is their home.
An estimated 65,000 children and young people around the UK have a legal right to citizenship but many are forced to live ‘half-lives’ simply because they can’t afford the £973 citizenship fee, which includes a hefty £587 profit for the government. The fees have soared from £386 in 2010 to today’s £973.
The UK charge of £973 for a child’s registration compares to 80 euros in Belgium, 55 euros in France and 51 euros in Germany for naturalisation. So, while migrant parents may have paid their own citizenship fees, they cannot always stretch to paying fees for existing or future offspring.
Citizens UK leader Fiona Carrick Davis, Surrey Square Primary School, said:
“Over the past few years citizenship fees have risen astronomically and far exceed those of other European countries. Many of these children were born in the UK or have spent much of their lives in the UK and have a legal right to citizenship. This is their home, they are British in all respects except they don’t have citizenship. In many cases this is simply because their parents cannot afford the fees. We are asking the Home Secretary to cut the profits from the cost of citizenship so these young people can make a meaningful contribution to the country they call home.”
Citizenship fees often come at the end of a process that has already been very expensive. A family with three children who have sought permission to stay on a ten-year route to settlement and have then accessed citizenship for all members would have paid out more than £46,000 by the time they become British citizens, taking account of all immigration fees. This would include for each family member £993 for initial leave to remain, which must be applied for four times, then £2,297 for indefinite leave to remain and then £973 for the children to become British, and £1282 for the parents. They would then need to pay for a passport.
Migrant families frequently suffer in-work poverty due to their low wages, and yet they still must find the money to pay these fees. Without citizenship, children and young people are prevented them from fully participating in the life of their community. For those who are undocumented, not being able to get the citizenship that is their right means that they are risk of removal from the country where they grow up, and it can push them into homelessness, illegal work and poverty.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has joined the call to reduce the fees. He said: “If a young person has the right to be a British citizen, then we should remove obstacles to them becoming one. It is wrong that the cost of citizenship – more than half of which is profit – is at least ten times higher than many of our European counterparts and is preventing too many young Londoners from accessing the rights they are fully entitled to by law.
“I support Citizens UK in their call to the Government to reduce the fee for young people registering as British citizens by abolishing the profit element.”
Anne-Marie Canning, Director of Social Mobility and Student Success at Kings College, London, said : “There are a large number of students in Greater London who are unable to access university because they are locked out of the student loans system due to paperwork.
"We’ve heard stories of parents having to pick which of their children’s paperwork they process so they can access student finance, as they cannot afford to do it for all of their children.”
“We and other universities in London and across the UK are concerned about this issue and have made scholarships available for these learners.
“If the Home Office reduced their fees it would enable more children and talented young people to secure their papers and access higher education like other students.’
Andre* [not his real name] is a young person entitled to leave to remain but unable to afford the fees. He has lived in the UK for 15 of his 18 years. He could have applied for citizenship at discretion before he reached 18. His lack of citizenship lost him a serious opportunity to play professional football and now he fears it may stop him going to university as he cannot access student loans.
His mum Maria* [not her real name] brought him from South America . She was granted limited leave to remain in the UK for 2.5 years just two years ago. This is now up for renewal and Maria wants to include her son in her application. So far, this application has cost her more than £3,000, including fees for the NHS. Maria works 40 hours a week as a cleaner, with no access to any benefits.
She believes the Home Office should not make a profit from children’s applications: “Because of his lack of citizenship my son was not able to apply for university. On numerous occasions my son has been given the opportunity to play professional football, but because of his lack of documentation, he was not able to play. My son can’t go to university - because he is not eligible for any student loan, or play football, because of his status.
“I work 40 hours a week as a cleaner and can in no way afford these fees. I must pay for accommodation. Myself and my son share a room, my son would like privacy but I am not able to rent a place with more rooms as I can’t afford to. My son is now saving up for university fees so can’t focus on his football as he has to work. He is very worried about being able to afford to go to university.
“Before I was the only one worrying but now my son is older and now he is worrying about what we will do. Our situation would be less difficult if we were able to afford to pay the fees for our status but right now the amount I must pay is ridiculous. The Home Office should not be making such a huge profit out of my child’s future.”
Rose* [not her real name] is 16 years old. She first came to the UK from Nigeria with her parents when she was 18 months old. In 2012 her parents were granted leave to remain with no access to public funds. Her parents are now trying to fund Rose’s application for leave to remain in the UK, so she can eventually get British citizenship and a British passport, access higher education, and lead a full life in the UK. Together with their own visas the family has now to pay around £10,000 just to get temporary leave for all family members.
Her mum Angela says:
“My husband works every single day of the week until 11PM to raise funds to apply for my visa renewal. I am applying and paying for leave to remain for my daughter and my husband as well as applying for British citizenship for my eldest son. I have decided not to apply for my other two children because I simply can’t afford it. The cost of everything, the application fees, the NHS fee, and money for the lawyers is costing me around £10,000. The Home Office will be making a total profit of around £3,000 and that is just the fees for my applications.”
To address this issue, today [December 13] , nearly 200 school children along with some young people seeking citizenship, dressed in Santa costumes, will deliver a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, at the Home Office, asking her to put young people before profits and reduce the fees for British citizenship for children.
Mother Ellen Eames, Chaplain at Saint Gabriel's College in South London, said:
“As Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth they remember that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to register with the authorities and they soon found themselves fleeing to Egypt as refugees. Christmas is a time for showing welcome and hospitality, not exploiting vulnerable families.
“Children in schools like mine are seeking to claim what is rightfully theirs - a secure future with citizenship in the UK - but are denied this because of the exorbitant profit the Home Office is making on citizenship fees. That is why we are asking the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, to take the profit out of passports for children entitled to citizenship.”
The letter says:
“Dear Santa Rudd,
"Don’t be a scrooge. We are all children who live in Britain. We consider ourselves British, have attended British schools, have British friends, live in British homes, watch British TV and some of us even have the ‘stiff upper lip’. We are all eligible for British citizenship, but we can’t afford it.
“We are asking you to reduce the £973 fee, which includes the £587 profit you make every time one of us buys our citizenship.
“We are members of Citizens UK, the biggest alliance of civil society institutions across the UK, including schools, universities, faith institutions, trade unions and charities, which campaign together for social justice and the common good. Together we represent over half a million people in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds and other areas in the UK.
“As much as we value British citizenship, the price is too high, especially among many of our families already struggling with low wages and rising prices.
“We are ambitious to make a meaningful contribution to society but cannot complete that journey without citizenship.
"We would like to meet with you to discuss reducing the £587 profit-making element of the fee to buy our citizenship.”
There are an estimated 120,000 ‘undocumented’ children all around the UK, more than half are, or will become, legally entitled to a British passport. Many are unaware of their status until they apply to university, try to open a bank account or need a passport for foreign travel.