SINCE when has the Home Office been run as a commercial business? The extraordinary increase in the fees for UK citizenship has raised questions about the Government’s intentions. Either it wishes to squeeze as much cash as it can out of vulnerable people who have no alternative; or it wishes to discourage applications for citizenship by making the process available only to the well-off. The only thing that can be said for certain is that this is not an instance of covering its costs. A new calculation by the social pressure group Citizens UK reckons that, of the £993 charged for initial leave to remain, £650 (65 per cent) is pure profit. (Other costs, such as a health surcharge and the fees for language certificates may be added.) For the next stage, indefinite leave to remain, applicants have to find £2297, of which £2045 (89 per cent) is profit. Citzens UK is particularly exercised about the fee for a child’s citizenship: £973, of which £587 (60 per cent) is profit. This compares with €55 for a child’s naturalisation in France and €51 for the same in Germany. The charity reckons that the whole process for a family with three children costs more than £15,000. This is, if anything, an underestimate. A wise applicant will pay for the services of a lawyer. Any errors or omissions in the complicated application process could lead to a rejection and the forfeiture of the fee. In the General Synod debate on the topic in July, a Southwark member, Captain Nicholas Lebey CA, said that he had forfeited £2000 because of a small error in the form for his son.
A government concerned about high levels of immigration might argue that making the naturalisation process difficult and costly is one of the means that it can use to deter people from attempting to settle. But most of those contemplating citizenship are already settled here, participating in their community and contributing to the UK economy. An estimated 65,000 children and young people are in limbo, many of them born in the UK. Without a passport, they have difficulties proving their identity. The policy seems designed to produce not deterrence but disaffection and hardship. Of course, were it a commercial business, the Home Office would be worrying about the damage to its reputation. Instead, it is this country’s reputation that is being damaged, and among people who wish it well. Another speaker in the General Synod debate, Sarah Schofield from Lichfield, asked: “At a time when we are trying to encourage a sense of belonging, commonality, and integration, why place obstacles in the way of people who have lived here for years [and] paid much to the nation?” Captain Lebey told the Synod: “I hear two words: injustice and exploitation. This is not right.” The Synod voted nem. con. in favour of a motion to harry MPs and pursue the subject in the Lords. As Brexit looms, and the issue of citizenship becomes more fraught, the citizenship process should be simpler, more transparent — and much cheaper.