On Monday 17 June, the International Observatory of Human Rights launched its campaign titled #ChildrenNotProfit in the House of Commons. The campaign urges the UK government to waive citizenship fees for children.
IOHR organised a panel discussion in parliament to gain support for the campaign from politicians and advocate for change. Panellists included Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Valerie Peay, the Director of IOHR, Nour Sakr, a human rights lawyer and activist and Jimmy Pickering, Widening Participation Manager (Post-16) at King’s College London and Trustee for CitizensUK. The audience also got to hear testimonials from families affected by the outrageous citizenship fees.
Amalia, who came to the UK when she was four years old, said “I’ve been in this country for 16 years but I’m still not seen as a citizen.” Now a student at King’s College London, she said she at one point “thought I wouldn’t be able to go to university. It was really crushing for me that I wouldn’t be able to afford the fees” because of having to pay the international student fees as a result of not having British citizenship.
Tens of thousands of families are facing unaffordable costs, which is why IOHR is asking the government to end the practice of profiteering from citizenship applications.
Valerie Peay, the director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, called on the next prime minister to end the “practice of profiteering from vulnerable children”. “Rather than driving families into debt to make a profit, we are calling on the UK government to stop this practice and join the rest of the EU in their approach to humanitarian support,” she said.
Brighton MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle backed IOHR’s calls for the UK government end the practice of making millions of pounds in profit from the citizenship applications of children.
“This forms part of a wider issue of how we treat immigrants and refugees and that’s why Refugee Week is so important and this campaign. Everyone should agree that £1,000 is far too high a cost to ask children to pay, especially when these are people who are already at a financial disadvantage,” he told the panel.
For many children who grew up in the UK, the pathway to citizenship can take several years and fees have spiralled out of control. Surprisingly, Her Majesty’s Treasury nets over £24 million a year in profit from the applications submitted from these children and their families—facts revealed through the freedom of information requests from Citizens UK.
The cost of a citizenship application in the UK – at £1,012 – is five times the European average, twenty times that of Germany. In Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, it is free to obtain the citizenship.
The cost of child citizenship in the four EU countries with the largest GDP outside of the UK (that is, Italy, Spain, France, Germany) is a fraction of the cost of citizenship in the UK. This demonstrates that, unlike the UK, the four largest economies in the EU do not need to rely on profit made from citizenship applications by often vulnerable people. The estimated cost of processing such applications is only £372, which means that the government makes over £24 million a year in profit.
Nour Sakr, a lawyer and human rights activist, told the panel that fees are 160 per cent higher today than in 2010. “There is no justification to be making a profit on children’s applications,” she said.
Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told The Guardian that urgent action was needed to ensure people were not denied basic rights just because they can’t afford exorbitant fees.
“We see clients every day who are pushed into destitution while the Home Office makes up to 2000% profits on some applications,” she added. “The impact on children who are unable to apply for citizenship because of the fees is particularly disturbing. The Home Office should not be profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.”
Children of Indian origin accounted for nearly 5,000 applications last year, the largest group proportionally. Nigeria and Pakistan were the second and third largest nationalities. More than 18,000 applicants were originally from other Commonwealth countries such as Zimbabwe and Caribbean nations. Commonwealth applications made up 46% of the total, and a further 9,000 applications were made by children originally from EU countries.
What impact do these fees have on the families and the children?
These fees have been found to have severe negative impacts such as driving parents into overwork, debt and skipping meals to save for the costs. But without citizenship, children’s access to education is restricted and children who were born in this country might find themselves having to pay international student fees for university, with no support in the form of a student loan.
Travel is made harder without the protections of a British passport. Children are denied access
to consular support and restrictions are placed on your right to re-enter.
In addition, only British citizens can vote. Without citizenship these children will be denied the right to participate in the democratic process resulting in the next generation remaining under-represented and voiceless.
These fees have a psychological impact. Children who have never considered themselves as anything except British have to come to terms with the fact that they are different from their friends. They are being denied the right to claim their identity.
Stuart Tannock, a sociology professor who works with Citizens UK, told The Guardian: “Access to British citizenship is vital if children are to play a full role in our society and reach their potential. These children have already met the strict criteria and have a legal right to British citizenship, but they cannot access their papers because of the unaffordable £1,012 fee.”
“Without citizenship, the government risks leaving children unable to attend university, get a job, or even without a nationality at all. We are urging the Home Office to reduce the cost of citizenship so these young people can have a bright future in the country they call home.”