Child citizenship fees: a barrier to education

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is currently inspecting the UK Home Office’s approach to charging for its services in respect of its asylum, immigration, nationality and customs functions.

The inspection will look at the rationale and authority for particular charges, including the amounts charged.

It will also look at whether the Home Office is providing the services in question efficiently and effectively, including meeting agreed service levels where these exist, and at the means of redress where individuals are dissatisfied with the service they have received.

Where the charged service is a premium option and a free service exists, the inspection will look at the relationship between the two, including how both are resourced and managed.

Rt Revd Jonathan Clark chairs the Southward Diocesan Board of Education as well as chairing CTBI’s Churches’ Refugee Network. Bishop Jonathan writes on his blog:

“Imagine you are a refugee who has recently been granted leave to remain in the UK, you and your spouse and children. You may well have had a senior and well-paid job in your country of origin, but in all likelihood you arrived here with nothing, and your qualifications aren’t recognised in this country. But this is where you want to belong, where you want to be your home country, the place to which you are committed for life. So you take whatever work you can, probably minimum wage, but better than nothing. You get along, just, from month to month, but it’s a struggle.

“And then, naturally enough, you want to express that commitment by becoming a British citizen. You realise these processes aren’t completely free. And being of an enquiring turn of mind, you find out about other countries too, just out of interest. If you were in Belgium, it would cost you €200 (currently about £177). If you were in the United States, it would cost you $725 (about £550). In France it’s just €55. And in the UK – £1,330. And if you make one mistake on your form, the application will be turned down without refund. Children are a bargain at a mere £1,012.”

He asks “is UK citizenship really 27 times more valuable than French?”

Bishop Jonathan is one of a number of signatories to an open letter from Citizens UK to Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes.

“There are thousands of children and young people across the UK who, even though they have the right to become British citizens by law, are blocked from becoming citizens because their families cannot afford the high cost of citizenship application fees. This currently stands at £1012 for children.

“Without citizenship young people are ineligible for student loans and home fees and are effectively blocked from going to university. Schools who have multiple pupils in this situation have noticed a real and significant detrimental impact from the cost of this application, including an increase in food insecurity and lack of basic needs being met. This often leads to schools having to step in to fill the gap by providing clothing, food and emotional support as well as subsidising additional extra-curricular activities.

“We believe that every child and young person who has the right to become a citizen by law should be enabled to become a citizen in practice. If we are serious about social mobility, then this barrier to education must be removed.

“As a first step, we would like the government to reduce the application fee for British citizenship from its current level of £1012 per individual child to its actual cost price (about £350). This will benefit many talented children and young people currently studying in schools across our country who are affected by this issue.”

Citizens UK’s letter can still be signed online. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration inspection report is expected to be published later this year.