Expert View

It shouldn’t be so hard for EU citizens to become British

by Kim Vowden | 14.05.2018

Kim Vowden is an immigration lawyer at Kingsley Napley LLP.

The Windrush scandal has prompted the government to offer free British citizenship to Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1973. That was the right thing to do. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

If the government isn’t careful EU citizens living in the UK and their children will be part of another Home Office scandal, on a much bigger scale than Windrush.

The government should be encouraging EU citizens to become British. This would guarantee their right to live in the UK – and give them the ability to vote in general elections – regardless of Brexit.

Over the last few years becoming a British citizen has become incredibly expensive. Applying for naturalisation now costs £1,330. A lot of people can’t afford it. Not everyone wants to become British but more people might consider it if the government cut the naturalisation fee to the amount it actually costs to process the application: £372.

EU citizens face an extra barrier when they apply for naturalisation. Because they don’t get their passport stamped when they enter the UK the Home Office routinely asks them to provide “alternative evidence” of their residence over the five-year qualifying period for naturalisation (three years if they’re married to a British citizen).

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This makes no sense. Since November 2015 any EU citizen applying for naturalisation has to obtain a permanent residence document first, and to get a permanent residence document they have to satisfy the Home Office that they have been exercising a right of residence in the UK for a five-year period. When they apply for naturalisation the Home Office asks for similar evidence all over again, and it often refuses applications on the grounds that the evidence isn’t quite what it was after.

Other nationals – US citizens for instance – aren’t asked for evidence of residence in the UK when they apply for naturalisation, even though a collection of entry stamps in a passport doesn’t tell you anything about how much time they have spent in the UK. The UK abolished exit stamps many years ago.

The Home Office collects entry and exit information from airlines so it already has details of our comings and goings. That information together with the evidence provided with the previous permanent residence application should be enough.

The Home Office may not intend to discriminate against EU citizens. It could be inertia – a hangover from the time before a permanent residence document was required for naturalisation. Whatever the reason, nobody at the top of the Home Office has bothered to revise the policy or explain why it’s needed.

Helping EU citizens and other permanent residents to become British is not just good for them. It will help to reduce the divisions in this country which have become so evident since the Brexit referendum. If more EU citizens become dual nationals the lines between who is and isn’t a foreigner will become blurred, which could help to reduce xenophobia. And the Home Office will still cover its costs while being able to point to a reduction in the number of foreign nationals living in the UK. Everyone wins.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “It shouldn’t be so hard for EU citizens to become British”

  • What worries me a lot is that the goalposts will be moved. This is not a unique worry. I know tier-2 visa holders that worry about this question at night, worry whether they can stay in the UK. These are, by the way, people working in academia, the NHS and the like, the so-called “brightest and best”. I know a tier-2 visa holder who left the UK for a job in the US as a scientist, after he got a message from the Home Office that his case for visa renewal was so fiendishly complex they needed more time to decide. Given how the cost has skyrocketed, and given how the hoops through which one has to jump become ever more difficult, I am not sure I’ll be able to make it. It seems to me a cynical attempt to milk immigrants for money, and to make sure only the affluent immigrants can ever become citizens.

  • There are nations who do not allow dual nationality, and my Dutch EU passport will soon be a rather better travel document than the Iconic Blue Passport. EU citizens should just get the right of residence in this country based on historic issues that the UK tossed away. Too much trouble at the borders when coming in and soon the country will resemble nations like Serbia and Russia, with unintended negative results such as collapse of tourism.

  • A related problem for British expats is that some EU countries do not allow dual nationality, and others (e.g.Germany) only allow it for EEA nationals.
    In Germany, the situation is that those expats who cannot qualify for German nationality before the Brexit cut-off date, may well be forced to give up British nationality if they want to carry forward the process of applying for a German passport. If we stayed in the Single Market (EEA membership), that would solve many of Brexit’s complications at a stroke.
    Alot of people think Single Market membership is just about removing barriers to trade (and vitally important though that is), but it is also about making life easier for individual citizens wanting to move around and have dealings in Europe.

  • @Alex,

    Quite, but the problem is that many people in the UK do not want to make it easier for individual citizens to move around, because some of them are individual citizens from other countries wishing to move here. At the same time they pour scorn and derision on anyone suggesting that this might work both ways and make life harder for UK citizens as well.

  • “If more EU citizens become dual nationals the lines between who is and isn’t a foreigner will become blurred…”
    No, they won’t, because for a majority of Leave voters, nationality is defined by two things: skin colour and whether (accentless) English is your mother tongue.

  • I received my first British passport 2 years after the EU referendum. I had started the journey towards naturalisation the weekend after the referendum.
    One thing which would greatly help would be for the forms for PR and naturalisation to be shorter… and available as paper copies from your local library or post office, maybe for a small fee. The passport application form was only 4 pages (A5 format too) but I was able to pick it up from my post office, and the guidance notes were included in the application pack. For PR, the application form was… 87 pages long! That’s just the application form, there were also guidance notes and a booklet. The form also changes 2-3 times per year, and you have to submit the most recent version: I had to reprint and refill the form before submitting my application as it was updated 2 weeks before I had finished gathering all the supporting evidence. For naturalisation, the form and associated booklets are a little shorter, but again the form was updated when I was nearly done completing it (thankfully my referees had not signed it yet) so I had to reprint and refill everything. In total, I ended up using around 500 pages of printer paper (and quite a few black ink cartridges) during the whole process.
    Applying online is not an option for everyone. First, online applications were not available yet when I did PR. Second, I am one of those (un)lucky people who are gifted with very very long names: there just wasn’t enough place to fill in my name or my relatives’ on any of the forms. I ended up writing covering letters for PR application, application to naturalise, and passport application. When you apply online, you also have to print several pages at the end: I just didn’t trust my printer and didn’t want to invest into a new one as I was unsure whether I would be able to stay in the UK after Brexit.
    I think the sheer length of the forms is a deterrent to people who are thinking of applying for PR/naturalisation. The forms are poorly designed too and sometimes poorly worded: when I did PR, the first page or two asked about biometric information for non EEA nationals, so something which is not applicable for EU nationals; for naturalisation, the very first question asked in the ‘Personal Information’ field is ‘Please give previous Immigration and Nationality Directorate or Border and Immigration Agency or UK Border Agency, or Home Office reference numbers’. In my case, the number they wanted was my PR card number, but because the form covers several different scenarios (people who apply through the EEA route, the ILR route), the form didn’t state ‘Enter your PR number’ and I know several people who were confused and either left the space blank or entered something incorrect like their foreign passport number.
    To me, it almost looks as if the forms and whole procedure had been designed with the intent to deter as many people as possible from applying. Most people don’t enjoy paperwork, and some people get really intimidated by long forms. Legal advice is expensive, and again some people are intimidated by lawyers. Those who make it through the entire journey towards naturalisation and successfully reach their destination do feel happy at the end of it, but many EU citizens will not or cannot make this journey and they may end up feeling bitter and resentful: the UK will end up coming across as a country where ‘foreigners’ are not welcome, unless they come as tourists to spend money. This is very far remote from a ‘Global Britain’.