London mayor fears another Windrush scandal with young facing fees of more than £1,000
Children and teenagers born in Britain are being left in limbo without access to education or employment because of £1,000 fees to gain citizenship, Sadiq Khanhas said, saying the government may face another Windrush-style scandal.
The mayor of London said the fees many young people were forced to pay were unacceptably high, given that most had lived most or all of their lives in the UK, but did not officially have British citizenship.
Most of the young people involved came to the UK with their parents as babies or small children, or were born in the UK to parents who migrated here.
Most teenagers do not realise they do not have secure status until they apply for post-18 education and are rejected because they cannot access funding or student loans. Instead, universities will class them as international students, charging them tens of thousands of pounds.
Without settled status, young adults may find themselves unable to rent a home, access healthcare, open bank accounts or start a job, under “hostile environment” restrictions introduced by the government, once they leave full-time education.
More than 159,000 Londoners aged 24 and under were found to be in this position by research from 2007. Khan said he was commissioning research to understand whether the problem had risen since new immigration restrictions came into force over the past decade.
“The recent Windrush scandal has shone a light on an immigration system that is simply unfit for purpose,” Khan said. “These young Londoners have lived most, if not all, of their lives in this country.”
Khan said it was shameful that young people, many born in Britain, found themselves barred from working or learning.
The mayor said the government “profit on their circumstances, despite the amazing contribution they make to our city and our country”.
The government needed to both streamline the application process and waive the “astronomically high” fees to affirm their citizenship, he added.
In April 2018, the cost for a child to register as a British citizen was £1,012 and £1,330 for an adult to naturalise their citizenship. The charity Citizens UK has calculated that much of the fee is profit – about £640 – compared with the £372 administration cost.
Those who were not born in the UK, but were brought to London as young children, face additional immigration fees of £8,521 over a 10-year period.
The executive director of Citizens UK, Neil Jameson, said it was “a huge own goal to deprive young people with bright futures of education when now more than ever Britain needs to extend a hand of welcome”.
The sums can put huge pressures on families who wish to register their children as British citizens, which is possible after a child has been in the country for 10 years. Some parents may still have uncertain immigration status, with no right to work and no recourse to public funds, meaning they can be effectively destitute.
At Surrey Square school in south London, featured in the Guardian in December, nine children in Year 5 alone are going through the expensive and arduous process of applying for citizenship, despite never knowing any other country.
Fiona Carrick-Davies, the school’s family and community coordinator, said the children at the school applying for citizenship all identified solely as British. “Families put themselves in difficult situations to get money, borrowing from friends and family, which can leave them forever in debt,” she said.
“Our parents are careworkers and cleaners, the fees are more than month’s salary. We have had to give more food vouchers out recently because people are paying the fees and may not have enough to pay for food.”
Nine-year-old Daniel Adebeso told the Guardian he wanted to get his citizenship to go to university. “I want to have my education like my friends,” he said.
His fellow Year 5 pupil Anjolaoluwa Somefun is also preparing her citizenship application for when she turns 10. “I want to be an engineer,” Anjolaoluwa said. “And build cars. I feel like I am British.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said the fees took into account the wider costs of running the immigration system, saying it was “funded by those who benefit from it” in order to reduce taxpayer expense.
“There are exceptions to visa application fees to protect the most vulnerable, such as for young people who are in the care of a local authority,” she added.