24th September 2019, Brighton
Labour MP Sir George Howarth has backed a campaign calling for the reform of the amount government charges children to apply for citizenship.
The MP for Knowsley said that lowering the fees which the UK Government charges for children to apply for their citizenship “can be done” in an event at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton this weekend.
Mr Howarth was speaking at an event held by the International Observatory of Human Rights.
The London-based NGO is calling on the government to scrap the punitive fees which sees children paying £1,012 to apply for citizen-status – the highest fees of any major economy in Europe.
A petition to waive the fees now has more than 5,000 signatures, half-way to the threshold required for an official government response.
Under-18s are also forced to pay £19.20 to provide biometric information and £80 to attend a citizenship ceremony if a child turns 18 during the application process.
If the application is refused, applicants are not refunded. If children want to re-apply for citizenship, they must pay the fee again.
But the cost of processing the application is just £372, meaning the Home Office makes £640 profit from each child that applies.
George Howarth MP said: “It may seem like bringing about these kinds of reforms is mammoth task, but I will tell you this: It can be done.
“It requires a generosity of spirit which we don’t seem to have a lot of in this country at the minute – but if we look to countries like Germany who have led the way on taking responsibility for people displaced by conflict, we can see how these types of policies can become a reality.
“My advice to everyone here would be to keep going.”
Another obstacle placed in the way of would-be citizens is the criteria for rejection. Children are subject to ambiguous “good character” criteria which allows civil servants to dismiss an application based on .
The cost of the application for children has increased 51% in the last five years – during which time Theresa May’s Home Office instigated a “hostile environment” policy to drive immigration numbers down.
That policy has affected the lives of thousands of children, some of whom were born here and some of those who came to the UK in search of a brighter future, but are left in limbo because their families struggle to pay the fees attached to their citizenship application.
Speaking at the event was 19-year-old Nigerian student Michelle Ezeuko who has lived in Britain for ten years and is eligible for citizenship.
A mistake in her application meant that she “fell out of the system” and became an undocumented migrant facing problems getting NHS care and into university. It took two years for the Home Office to process her new application for limited leave to remain. The mistake in her application meant the clock had restarted. She will need to make four similar applications, then obtain indefinite leave before she can seek to become a citizen.
The cost of the applications is so high that in one instance, Michelle’s mother could only afford fees for one application – meaning she had to choose which child would be given the chance of citizenship.
Michelle told the conference: “My perception of home and where I belong is the UK. “There is no money or time to establish links to my mother country, so I have always considered myself to be British – and yet I don’t have the status of a British citizen.” IOHR director Valerie Peay, said: “Removing the £1,012 fee charged for a child’s future is the first step to take through the parliamentary system. “Working together, we also need to address the barriers that intimidate those with the right to apply. “No child should have the spectre of an ambiguous “good behaviour” stipulation hanging over them over late homework or trying to help parents translate their complications of an application only available in English. “It’s time we thought differently about the vulnerable in our society and helped them to engage without anxiety and crippling fees.”
On the 1st of July, IOHR launched a petition calling on the UK government to waive the application fee for children’s citizenship applications.
The International Observatory of Human Rights was established in 2017 in London as an independent non-profit and non-governmental organisation.
The team is made up of human rights professionals, lawyers, researchers, award-winning journalists and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
IOHR utilises its unique access and the expertise of its multilingual and dedicated staff to advocate for human rights worldwide.
The International Observatory of Human Rights has created partnerships with local and international human rights groups.
The IOHR advocacy team meets with governments, members of parliament and global groups such as the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and businesses to drive and promote positive changes and push for justice and the respect of human rights worldwide.