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Government criticised for foot-dragging over harsh child citizenship policy
Credit: Jesús Rodríguez on Unsplash

Government criticised for foot-dragging over harsh child citizenship policy

The immigration inspector has criticised the Home Office for its delay in updating its policy on refusing British citizenship to children because they are not of “good character”. David Bolt’s report, published on 4 April 2019 along with two others, also shows that the department is not taking seriously its legal duty to protect the best interests of children in issuing character refusals.

Mr Bolt often carries out re-inspections, on the well grounded suspicion that the Home Office cannot be trusted to keep its promises to change following an initial inspection. This was one of those, following up on a July 2017 review of the good character policy as applied to children. The Home Office promised to revise its guidance on the matter no later than December 2017. It took until January 2019.

As John wrote at the time, the new guidance did no more than pay lip service to the inspector’s recommendations. The inspector agrees. Mr Bolt writes that there is no reason it should have taken a year longer than the department’s own deadline to produce an update that “appears, in large part, simply to restate the previous policy, albeit with more explicit references to its application to children and young persons”.

The report does record that since September last year, a decision to refuse citizenship because of bad character must be sent to a senior Home Office caseworker for sign-off. (This change was only put in place after formal notification of the planned re-inspection, naturally.)

There were 28 child character refusals in the year following the July 2017 inspection. In two cases, the child had a single police caution to their name. One was aged just 13.

28 may not seem like a huge number when there are 12,000-13,000 registration applications a year, but the inspector points out that there is a deterrent effect too:

Some of those eligible to apply may not have done so to avoid the disappointment of a refusal, and from fear of provoking removal action as a consequence, but it is reasonable to assume that the risk of losing the entire [£1,012] fee will have been the deciding factor in many cases.

Only one of the 28 case files contained any reference to the legal duty to act in a child’s best interests. The department was unable to produce a single example of best interests being balanced against the child’s conduct to reverse a citizenship refusal. It is not often one can say of a statutory duty that it is more honoured in the breach than the observance.

The report recommends that the Home Office should:

  • Closely monitor how the new guidance is being implemented and “what practical effect it has on good character considerations in the case of young persons”
  • Keep records of how best interests are being factored into child citizenship decisions [this is clearly code for “actually factor best interests into citizenship decisions”]

There will be another re-inspection next year.

CJ McKinney

CJ is Free Movement's deputy editor.

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