THE Church is being urged to challenge the Government over the “prohibitive” cost of applying for British citizenship.
In a Birmingham diocesan motion that will be on the General Synod’s agenda next month, the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council is being urged to make recommendations to Ministers, and for bishops to raise the issue during parliamentary debates. The motion also urges parishes to lobby their MPs, support those struggling with the cost of applications, and to guide them to responsible lenders or credit unions for advice.
Current fees are £1282 per adult and £973 per child. In the United States, the fee for an adult is £563, in Germany it is £222, and in Australia it is £163. UK applicants also face additional costs of applying for indefinite leave to remain (required before a citizenship application); sitting the “Life in the UK Test”; residency permits and possible legal assistance.
Ben Franks, the motion’s proposer, said: “These high fees are beyond the means of many low-income families, who are consequently consigned to an uncertain status of residency. The majority of those who cannot afford to apply for citizenship cannot vote, though they are often working and paying tax, and they can incur significant debt in trying to save for the fee.”
He described it as “a prohibitive cost to not just those living below the poverty line, but also those above the poverty line, the working poor, due to the fact that many hard-working migrant families will often find themselves initially employed in low-paying professions due to their uncertain status”.
He described one Somali couple with permanent leave to remain, who have been living with their three children in Birmingham for ten years. Both parents have low-paid part-time work. They decided to apply for citizenship in 2013, but, because the cost was so high, they had to save for one application at a time. It will be later this year before they are all UK citizens — at a price of £5483 plus additional administrative costs.
Mr Franks referred to research that had found that achieving citizenship was important in migrant integration and social cohesion, and cultivated loyalty among migrants to their new home country and its values. Children of successful applicants would have better prospects, swelling the UK’s future workforce and contributing to the economy.
“The prohibitive level of citizenship fees creates a social, economic, and racial divide in our communities between those who can and those who cannot afford to apply,” he said. “There is vital work which the Church can do as part of its commitment to its mission and ministry across the nation and throughout parishes to support those people wishing to attain citizenship.”