Two children who must pay more than £1,000 in citizenship fees to register as British citizens despite being born and raised in the UK are taking the Home Office to court.
The landmark case – brought by two children known only as A and O – could have implications for an estimated 120,000 people in the UK, who were born here or who came at a young age, without citizenship as a result of their parents’ immigration status.
The Home Office currently charges a fee of £1,012 for children to register as citizens, of which £640 is profit and £372 is administrative costs.
Campaigners argue these fees are forcing some families into destitution, that it causes children psychological harm, and denies them rights afforded to others. This includes eligibility to work in certain jobs, claim student finance, and to travel outside of the country.
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During a three-day hearing which starts on Tuesday (26 November), the High Court will hear arguments as to whether it is lawful for the Home Office to set its citizenship fees at rates that some children cannot afford and to make a profit from them.
The case is also being brought charity the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens with support from Amnesty International UK.
Among the thousands of children without citizenship is Daniel, 15, who came to the UK with his mother when he was three years old. He spoke of how he was unable to join his classmates on school trips because of he lacked nationality.
“I didn’t understand at first and I didn’t think it was fair that I was left out. When my mother told me I wasn’t British, I felt sad,” he said.
Daniel now hopes to attend college so he can join the army, but is unable to do so unless he becomes a British citizen.
He added: “‘My mother saved what she could but sometimes she didn’t eat properly so she could do this. At the time we had some support from the council but my mother was not then permitted to work except unpaid as a volunteer with a charity. It has been really difficult for my mother.”
‘Another Windrush Generation’
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty UK’s programme director for migrant rights, has warned the situation could lead to a repeat of the Windrush scandal.
The Windrush scandal has seen hundreds of people of Caribbean heritage threatened with deportation and denied legal rights because the Home Office categorised them as undocumented migrants by mistake.
“[This] too concerns people who have been settled in this country for a long time yet face exclusion from social rights and opportunities and even from their home country,” he wrote earlier this year.
Until 1983, anyone born in the UK automatically was granted citizenship. The introduction of the 1981 British National Act brought this to an end.
Citizenship is now automatically granted only to those who have at least one parent who is already a British, or has settled in the UK.
But the Act gives all children who grow up in the UK, whether born in the country or not, have the right to register as British citizens. It is argued the Home Office fee – which has risen significant from £35 when first introduced, and which earned the department £24m in profit last year – is denying them this right.
The Home Office does not comment on legal cases and keeps all fees under review. EachOther understands that it is not mandatory to apply for citizenship in order to study and work in the UK.