Stuart McDonald MP: Time to stop the profiteering off children who have the right to British citizenship
The increasingly exorbitant fee puts the right to register as British beyond the financial means of many and is counter to the government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children says Stuart McDonald MP.
Most of us don’t have to think about meeting a fee to be a citizen. We’re born in a country, and we grow up as its citizens. We might pay for a passport, a driver’s licence or other types of identification, but the rights associated with our citizenship are taken for granted and we pay no fee and complete no application to enjoy them.
However, there are estimated to be over 60,000 children who were born in the UK who do not enjoy fee-free citizenship – because at the time of their birth, their parents were not British or permanently settled here. Thousands more who came to the UK at a very young age and have grown up here knowing only the UK as their home are in the same position. It is often the case these kids won’t even understand that they are not British until they sign up for a school trip abroad, or apply for University.
Quite rightly, Parliament has put in place provisions so that many of these children are or will become entitled as a matter of law to register as British citizens. That will happen if, for example, a child is born and spends the first 10 years of their life here, or if one of their parents becomes settled or British. British Citizenship is clearly appropriate for the child in such circumstances, given their strong connection to the country – every bit as strong as the connection you or I have!
The problem is that over the last decade, the Home Office has charged an increasingly exorbitant fee that puts the right to register as British beyond the financial means of many.
The charge has more than doubled in 10 years. As of the 6th of April 2018, the cost to register one child as a British citizen is £1012; a substantial sum of money for any family. The cost to the government of processing this fee is £372. In short, the government is making 170% profit on the back of recognising the rights of British children.
Analysis by leading immigration barrister Colin Yeo show this has generated a profit of nearly £100 million in the last 5 years – with the rapid increase in the fee mirrored by a significant downturn in the number of applications.
Having a profit-making element in the system, is counter to the government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This is one argument that is being taken forward by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens in their legal challenge to the Home Office. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children’s best interests must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them. The Home Office has not even assessed the impact of these fees on the children concerned.
This impact is severe - if a child loses out on their right to citizenship then the right to work, to rent property and to access healthcare can all be impacted on. The suggestion sometimes made by the Home Office that such kids – entitled to British Citizenship – could instead embark on a hazardous process of repeated applications for immigration leave and then settlement is, frankly, outrageous.
69 MPs from all parties have expressed their opposition to these fees by signing EDM 1262; over 100 education leaders have written to the Home Secretary arguing for a reduction in fees; councils and trade unions are making similar calls. It is time to stop the profiteering off children who have the right to British citizenship and ensure all children with the right to register as citizen can access it.
Stuart McDonald is SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.