Campaigners Say The Government Must Stop Charging Migrants’ Children For British Citizenship
Children’s charities have called for the government to go further after it made changes this week to the fees it charges the children of migrants who wish to claim British citizenship.
Since 2018 the Home Office has charged children of migrants £1,012 to claim their citizenship, despite many being born in this country and never having lived elsewhere. Campaigners argue this has created a two-tiered system in the UK, with almost 30,000 children having to pay to obtain their citizenship in 2020. The government says that those who have benefited from the UK’s immigration system should help to fund its costs.
This week the Home Office stated that children from low-income households or under the care of a Local Authority can now apply to have fees waived. But the department has stopped short of removing the fee entirely, stating it would be maintained in the majority of cases.
The high fees have acted as a barrier to many low-income families. The official estimate shows that the processing cost of an application is £416, meaning the Home Office makes almost £600 profit per child.
Project 17, an organisation that campaigns to end destitution among migrant children, have welcomed the introduction of a fee waiver to remove this financial barrier for poorer households but remain concerned it wasn’t scrapped entirely.
“We're disappointed that the fee remains so high, and we're concerned about the evidential burden and whether applications for fee waivers will be fairly assessed”, a spokesperson told PoliticsHome.
The high fees have been the subject of legal action against the Home Office. On 18 February 2021, following a case brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, the Court of Appeal found that the Secretary of State had breached their duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This was later contested by the Supreme Court, but it spurred the Home Secretary to conduct a review into possible changes to the system.
The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens has accepted the changes brought forward this week as an achievement for their campaigning and “for ‘hidden children’ who have a right to British citizenship”.
“There is a lot to be done still to ensure citizenship is accessible to all entitled to it, and we must ensure this policy is effective for the children it is intended to benefit”, CEO Solange Valdez-Symonds told PoliticsHome.
While campaigners are awaiting more details on how the fee waivers and exclusions will operate in practice, the Mayor of London – who has previously campaigned to scrap the fee entirely – has called on the government to provide financial support to advice services so families can navigate the process.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, a spokesperson said: “The Mayor believes it is unacceptable that children are excluded from accessing their UK citizenship due to the exorbitant fees charged by the Home Office. He is pleased that the Government will be introducing a waiver for some, but the full details must be urgently published, and Ministers must go further by entirely cutting the for-profit immigration and citizenship fees and reinstate legal aid for children’s immigration cases.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The public rightly expects those who benefit from our immigration and nationality system to help fund its costs and removing the fee for child citizenship would require that funding to be recovered elsewhere, such as through increased reliance on the UK taxpayer
“However, we are aware that some may need additional support which is why we’ve introduced an affordability waiver and an exception for those looked after by a Local Authority. This approach supports eligible children applying for British citizenship, whilst balancing against the financial impact on taxpayers.”
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