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Woman told she is not British by the Home Office despite living in UK all her life

‘I felt confused about who I was. I’d believed one thing all my life and all of a sudden it was a lie’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 13 April 2018 19:54 BST
Irene Kaali was born in Bradford, but her application for British citizenship ‘failed’ as her parents did not have indefinite leave to remain at the time of her birth
Irene Kaali was born in Bradford, but her application for British citizenship ‘failed’ as her parents did not have indefinite leave to remain at the time of her birth (Irene Kaali)

A woman from Carlisle has been told she is not British, despite being born in the UK and living in the country all her life.

Irene Kaali, 24, who was born in Bradford and now works in local government, had her application for British citizenship “failed” because her parents did not have indefinite leave to remain at the time of her birth.

Her parents moved to the UK from Tanzania shortly before she was born. They now both have settled status, with her mother working as a nurse and her father as a lecturer.

But despite this, and despite the fact that Ms Kaari has grown up, studied and worked in Britain, the Home Office informed her she had “no automatic claim” to British citizenship, and that if she wanted to apply, she would have to pay £1,163 plus an admin fee of £80.

A response to her request for a passport stated the application had been “failed” because in order to have a claim to British citizenship, “one of her parents would need to have been settled or British at the time of her birth”.

It went on to state that although she has no “automatic claim” to British citizenship, “from the information provided it appears she may have a right to register as a British citizen under section 1(4) of the BNA 1981”.

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Ms Kaali told The Independent: “This was very confusing. I was born here, so I just assumed that I was British. I felt disheartened and confused about who I was. I’d believed one thing for my whole life and all of a sudden it was a lie.”

Out of frustration, Ms Kaali posted a status on Facebook about what had happened. She received a flurry of responses from people saying they were shocked and surprised.

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“They didn’t know this was a thing that happened; they always knew me as being British,” she said.

Friends persuaded her to create a GoFundMe petition to raise funds for her citizenship application, and within the first 20 hours she had raised half the money needed. She has now reached the target.

“It’s incredible and I’m so thankful, but for me it doesn’t really end there. There is an issue in terms of what they class someone as British is – it’s very vague. It’s a case of your parents’ status, and there are a lot of boxes you need to tick to apply,” she said.

“It says you have to have lived here up until you were 10 years old, you have to have not left the country for more than five years, and the last one is you have to be of ‘good character’.

“It almost feels like that’s a sneakily vague thing they put in there so they can decide at their own discretion who they deem to be British or not.”

Ms Kaali now hopes to launch a petition to change the rules around applying for British citizenship, and is in the process of speaking to lawyers and other experts to propose a viable alternative.

She added: “I don’t feel like it’s enough to just stop here knowing that so many people are in a similar situation. Not only do you have to meet that criteria but you have to pay the ridiculous funds as well. Not every has access to those kind of funds.”

Her case bears similarities to that of Shane Ridge, a UK-born man who was ordered to leave the country by immigration officials last summer because they said he was not British, despite having lived in the country his entire life.

The 21-year-old, who said he was as “British as they come”, said he received a letter from the Home Office telling him he had to leave because he had “no lawful basis to be in the UK”.

It was thought to be because his mother was born in Australia when his grandparents were visiting the country – but she subsequently became a British citizen.

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