Home Office accused of using children of immigrants as a ‘cash cow’ with extortionate citizenship fees

Exclusive: Government urged to stop ‘shamelessly profiteering’ from immigration charges amid warnings UK-born children are being subjected to same injustices as Windrush generation

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 01 July 2018 18:19 BST
Daniel, a 15-year-old who has been in the UK since the age of three, has been prevented from going on school trips and risks missing out on college because his mother could not afford to apply for citizenship
Daniel, a 15-year-old who has been in the UK since the age of three, has been prevented from going on school trips and risks missing out on college because his mother could not afford to apply for citizenship (Amnesty UK)

The Home Office has been accused of using UK-born children of immigrants as “cash cows” by charging extortionate sums for them to obtain citizenship.

Youngsters who were born in Britain or came here as babies are being prevented from going on school trips and attending college because their parents cannot afford to pay fees of more than £1,000.

Meanwhile, adults who have lived in the UK for years are being driven into destitution and illegality in order to renew their status, with some women forced into prostitution to raise the funds to reapply.

The accusation comes as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration launches an inquiry into the charges, issuing a call for evidence to look at the rationale for the fees.

The cost of applying for British citizenship for a child is £1,102, despite the administrative cost being just £372. A ‘leave to remain’ application for an adult or child, which grants two-and-a-half years of UK status, costs £1,033 per person, with an immigration health surcharge of £500 on top of this.

These costs have risen steeply in recent years despite the actual cost of processing applications being significantly lower, meaning the Home Office is generating considerable income. All application fees are non-refundable so are not returned if the application fails.

Unlike in most European countries, children who are born in Britain but whose parents were not formally settled in the country at the time of their birth are not considered British.

When considering child citizenship applications, if the child is aged over 10 the Home Office also has to be satisfied that they are of “good character”, which campaigners have described as “outrageous”.

Lawyers and charities have accused ministers of “shamelessly profiteering” from placing these charges on immigrant families, warning that British-born children are being subjected to the same injustices as the Windrush generation.

Daniel, a 15-year-old who has been in the UK since the age of three, was prevented from going on school trips and risks missing out on college because his mother could not afford to apply for citizenship.

He told The Independent: “It’s stopped me doing a lot of things. I felt like I was different from everyone else. You’d think me being British would be something that would come naturally as I’ve been here as long as I can remember. It’s been really limiting.”

Amnesty UK has launched a petition urging the government to remove any element of the citizenship fee that exceeds the actual cost of administration, urging that no child should be denied their right to British citizenship because of a “profit-making fee” they cannot afford.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme director, said: “This sort of exclusionary policy jeopardises a child’s start in life, and the futures of these children are slowly and silently being chipped away. Many of these children don’t know they’re not British until they discover they can’t get a passport to go on a school trip or are told they must pay overseas fees and can’t have a student loan to go to university.

“And then they are told they must pay over £1,000 to register as British even though they’ve lived here most or all their lives. The scale of citizenship fees is a real and growing problem. Such shameless profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly disgraceful. It leaves children who cannot afford the fees vulnerable to the same injustices and marginalisation as the Windrush generation.”

Andrew Jordan, immigration manager at Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, said he was seeing a growing number of working families who have been in the UK for years with legal status but are now unable to pay the thousands of pounds the Home Office charges to retain their right to be in the country.

“The fees are so expensive right now – even for middle-class people – and this has tipped many families over the edge,” he said.

“The Home Office is using migrants as an ATM, as a cash cow. It’s crazy. And it’s forcing more people into destitution and illegality – the dark underbelly. I’ve had at least two or three people who have been forced to literally prostitute themselves to pay for legal fees.

“These are often people doing the manual and menial jobs. They don’t want to live off benefits. They are strivers, but they can’t make it. They’re working two, three, four jobs. They just can’t scrape the money together.”

Applicants can apply for a fee waiver – meaning they would not be required to pay application charges – if they can prove that they are destitute, but Mr Jordan said many families are not living in destitution but are still unable to afford the charges.

“If you want to challenge a decision you have to fork out a lot of money or else show that you are in absolute poverty. There is no middle ground,” he said.

It will cost more than £7,000 for the Moodie family to renew their status
It will cost more than £7,000 for the Moodie family to renew their status (Jenelle)

Jenelle Moodie, who is from Trinidad but has lived in the UK for 15 years and has three UK-born children, recently paid out £1,102 for her eldest child’s citizenship application. But it will cost another £7,500 to renew the rest of the family’s status – which she and her husband cannot afford.

“It’s too much money. If they’ve got the right to be a British citizen, why do we have to pay for it? I think it’s ridiculous that we are charged that amount. As a family, we cannot afford it,” said the 31-year-old.

“It’s very stressful. Because we’re only given two-and-a-half years of status we can’t relax. We can’t even pay for one, yet we can’t get a fee waiver.”

SNP MP Stewart McDonald, who has raised the issue in parliament, said: “Any reasonable person would regard these fees as outrageous.

“The Home Office argues they’re trying to make the thing sustainable, but the charges have become absolutely ludicrous. Certainly the case for children, there is just no argument. This is a lawful right.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We keep all Home Office fees under regular review. When setting immigration and nationality fees, which are approved by parliament, we also take into account the wider costs involved in running our border, immigration and citizenship system, so that those who directly benefit from it contribute to its funding. This reduces the burden on UK taxpayers.”

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