Children as young as 10 denied UK citizenship for failing ‘good character’ test

Hundreds of children have been denied British citizenship for offences as minor as petty theft

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:48pm

Hundreds of vulnerable children as young as 10, who have spent most of their lives in the UK, are having their applications for British citizenship denied for failing to pass the government’s controversial “good character” test.

Figures published by the Home Office after a freedom of information request show that, on average, one child a week has had their application rejected over the last five years – with campaigners estimating that as many as 400 have been denied citizenship for failing to satisfy the good character requirement.

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Children born in the UK have been turned down over convictions for crimes as trivial as petty theft, with even offences that are punished with a caution or a fine considered serious enough to warrant their rejection.

Critics say the figures are evidence of the Home Office failing to meet its statutory responsibilities to promote a child’s welfare and making the “best interests” of the child a primary consideration in applications. They criticised guidelines for failing to differentiate between young people who have grown up in the UK and adult migrants looking to naturalise.

“These are not adult migrants,” says Solange Valdez-Symonds, the director of the campaign group the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens, adding that young people should not be put in “a position where the secretary of state thinks or believes they can be removed to some obscure country where one of the parents or both parents were born. It’s not acceptable, it’s outrageous and an insult to them and the society of which they are members.”

Valdez-Symonds, who has supported more than a dozen such cases, describes her clients as particularly vulnerable children. “All the clients have been destitute or very poor. At least half are looked after children or have had some sort of social service intervention. All of them are black,” she said. “The whole thing has a big impact on BME [black and minority ethnic] children.”

Recent figures obtained through freedom of information show that 35 applications were rejected in 2017, while 59 and 38 child applications were rejected in 2016 and 2017, respectively. There was a peak in rejections in 2013, when 78 child applicants had their requests denied.

The good character requirement was introduced in 2006 and applies to applicants over the age of 10 who want to naturalise or register as a British citizen. Under current guidelines, an applicant may be rejected if they have received a fine within the last three years. If the fine is over three years old, applicants could still be rejected if they have received multiple fines that show “a pattern of offending”.

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A 2017 review of the good character requirement by David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, called on the Home Office to review the guidance and ensure it “makes explicit the scope for caseworkers to exercise discretion”.

In the meantime, children such as DB, a 16-year-old boy with special needs who was born and grew up in London, continue to struggle to gain citizenship. His guardian, SD, said he had been discouraged from applying once he was sent to the youth offending team for 10 months in 2016. “I’ve been told it’s going to be difficult, it’s not going to be straightforward because of his criminal activity,” SD said, adding that social workers have told DB “he’ll struggle to get citizenship”.

The Home Office said that “all citizenship applications are assessed on their individual merits”and the good character requirement applied to all people aged 10 and over as that is the age of criminal responsibility.