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The UK Home Office is holding children’s rights to ransom

The “hostile environment”; a policy that has seamlessly lurched from one controversy to the other. The brainchild of Theresa May’s time in the Home Office likely needs little introduction, but the “hostile environment” is – essentially – the idea that we can drive immigration numbers down by making the United Kingdom a horrible place for immigrants to live. The consequences have been far-reaching, from increasing strains on our NHS, to the infamous Windrush scandal. It is not widely regarded as a compassionate policy.

It seems increasingly likely that we are on the cusp of the newest crisis to rise from the ashes of this hostile environment. Since 2010, the fees for children to apply for UK citizenship have been consistently rising. The current charge – of £1,012 per application – is now 51% higher than it was just five years ago. The cost of the Home Office processing this same application? Just £372.

The £640 gained on each of these applications has resulted in the Home Office raking in £2m profit a month from these children.

More than this, many children’s families will have waited over ten years and paid over £10,000 in Home Office fees before their child is even eligible to apply for citizenship.

These excessively high fees have led to families having to make drastic and heartbreaking decisions. An open letter to the Guardian highlights how parents have had to take out payday loans to cover the Home Office’s costs, some families have even been forced into choosing to secure one child’s citizenship over another. Regrettably, there are countless similar examples of these charges leading to food insecurity, debt, parents overworking, and children’s basic needs being left unmet.

Increasingly, the burden is falling upon schools and non-governmental organisations to step in and provide clothing, food and emotional support for the families affected. These same schools are being forced to set up crowdfunding pages because they’re being left critically underfunded.

The hostile environment strikes again.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” — Nelson Mandela

One only needs to look at our neighbours to see the inherent immorality in these fees. The cost of citizenship for children in the UK is five times the European average, twenty times that of Germany. In Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, it is free.

Sadly, if families seeking UK citizenship cannot find the means to fork out the funds, it will have lasting implications on their children’s opportunities in life. One of the biggest impacts is the restrictions it places on a child’s access to education. Without citizenship, children who have lived here for most or even all of their lives are forced into paying international student fees for university. If this were not bad enough, it is compounded by the fact their lack of citizenship also means they’re ineligible for any government assistance in the form of student loans.

A three-year degree could cost these children anywhere between £36,000 and £57,000. In a best-case scenario this is still £8,250 more over the three years than they would pay as citizens – £29,250 more in the worst case. The reality is, without the support of student loans, access to higher education is all but impossible for these children who, in all senses except the word, are British citizens.

The Home Office is decidedly putting a price on these children’s potential, not just at the root cause of the problem, but also in idly standing by while the repercussions of their policies manifest themselves in later life. This price is £640 per child.

“Home Office profiteering on the cost of citizenship applications means we risk shutting the door on a generation of tens of thousands of bright young people who could be the doctors, teachers and businesspeople Britain needs to compete on the global stage.”
— Anne-Marie Canning, Director of Social Mobility and Student Participation at King’s College London

A renewed impetus is needed in addressing the cost of children’s citizenship applications. In January 2014, the government launched the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPRS), a scheme that committed to bring up to 20,000 Syrian refugees to the UK in response to the conflict in Syria. In 2016 this was complemented with the Vulnerable Children Resettlement scheme (VCR), aimed at resettling children from the Middle East and North Africa region.

As of March, 7,966 children have come to the UK through VPRS and an additional 823 have come through VCR. For those coming to the UK on a refugee visa, it takes six years to be eligible to apply for citizenship, meaning that in the next few years there will be 8,789 children all of whom now face the unnecessary burden of these fees. Knowing the damage these fees have already incurred, it is not unreasonable to presume that – when thousands of children’s rights are called into question in such a short period of time – this crisis might escalate into the Home Office’s new Windrush Scandal.

“The potential of children is not to be found in this £1,012 fee”
— Alison Thewliss MP

The plight of these children is not going completely unnoticed in Parliament. Stuart McDonald MP of the Home Affairs Committee has been a champion on this issue, securing a debate and tabling an Early Day Motion which was signed by 72 other MPs. In 2018, a report published by the Citizenship and Civic Engagement Committee recommended that the cost of applying for citizenship should be waived completely for children. A recommendation sadly lost on the government. Perhaps most damning for the Home Office is the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration’s report suggesting the government publish information on the negative social and equality impact of their fee policy. Again, an appeal that appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, there has been little to no sign that the Home Office will move to a more compassionate stance on this issue. This is why the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) has decided to launch our new campaign – #ChildrenNotProfit.

We are calling on the Home Office to waive the fees of citizenship applications for all children.

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