£669 fee denies children’s right to citizenship
As well as lack of legal advice, children seeking to regularise their immigration status are being hampered by hefty registration fees and lack of information about grounds for refusing applications.
A project run by Ealing Law Centre says the £669 fee puts the cost of registration beyond the reach of many migrant children who would otherwise qualify for British citizenship. The government estimates the actual cost of processing an application at just £144.
Solange Valdez, (pictured) solicitor at the law centre and co-founder of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), says there are profound emotional and practical consequences for children of being unregistered. ‘They are troubled and embarrassed by it. Having their citizenship status clearly defined would enable them to participate more fully in British society.’
The families of children in this situation are generally unable to access loans to pay the fee because of their status and circumstances; despite extensive research, PRCBC had been unable to find any charities prepared to fund the cost of registration.
Speaking at the launch of a PRCBC report into the issue, Garden Court Chambers barrister Sonali Naik said the fees were ‘not so much a disincentive as a total obstacle’, to children securing their right to citizenship. The benefits of citizenship over indefinite leave to remain (ILR) ‘cannot be overestimated’. she added: ‘freedom from immigration controls; the right to vote; the right to stand in elections; the right not to face deportation if you commit a criminal offence with a sentence of over 12 months’.
Naik told of cases where families had spent two years fund-raising to pay a child’s registration fee, only to receive ‘a two-line refusal’. A review costs a further £80, and, even if the money can be found, refusals are difficult to challenge when you don’t know the grounds on which an application was rejected in the first place, she added.
PRCBC is now unable to take on any more cases until February 2015, such has been the demand for its help. It receives around four to five referrals a day, and sees up to a dozen children at its monthly advice sessions.
■ Systemic obstacles to children’s registration as British citizens, November 2014, Ealing Law Centre.