Thousands of children across the UK, many of whom were born here, are affected by the cost of child citizenship. At present the fee is £1,012 per application and for so many families this is simply unaffordable. Because of these prohibitive costs, many families are often forced to go into risky situations just to pay for their children to become citizens. For children born in the UK but ineligible because their parents don’t have permanent status, lack of citizenship can have huge impact on their rights and futures, for example costing them a chance of going to university.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Home Office is making a profit of £640 per application as the real cost of processing child citizenship fees is only £372. That is why, together with leaders from Citizens UK member institutions who are most deeply impacted by the fees, I am urging the Home office to reduce the cost of child citizenship to cost price.
This week, led by Anne-Marie Canning, Director of Social Mobility & Student Success at King’s College London, convened over 100 education leaders to write an open letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes to outline the damage done to children’s lives. The breadth of this intervention from education leaders like myself shows just how many children – an estimated 120,000 – are at risk of not being able to fulfil their potential.
In my role as the Headteacher at Surrey Square Primary School in South London, I witness the consequences of extortionate citizenship fees every day. We recently took the decision to increase the number of food vouchers handed to students and families because, as well as taking out loans or working multiple minimum wage jobs to save up the money, the reality is that parents and children are also going without food.
The scale of the problem is so prolific at our school that some students have consequently suffered mental health illnesses. Students are anxious about the sacrifices their families are making and the extremely worried about the uncertainty the future holds for them.
It’s unfair that without British citizenship, many of these pupils are unable to go to university (without paying thousands of pounds in international student fees), unable to rent a home, access healthcare, open a bank account or start a job. The Home Office is closing the door on a generation of tens of thousands of bright young people who could be the doctors, teachers and business leaders of Britain in the future.
To demonstrate just how needlessly high these fees are, Citizens UK has conducted research into the cost of child citizenship in other European Union countries. The research found that UK child citizenship fees are the highest in Europe, almost five times more than the EU-15 average, and almost 10 times higher than the likes of Spain, France, Belgium and Sweden. There really is no reason why UK citizenship fees are so high.
I, and so many others, am urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes to look again at this issue and reduce the cost of child citizenship. Profiteering from children by the Home Office is bad for children and bad for Britain. It leaves families who cannot afford the fees vulnerable to the same injustices and marginalisation as the Windrush generation.