APPLYING FOR BRITISH CITIZENSHIP by Primerose Makunzva
Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the Home Office has seen a spike in the number of applications for British Citizenship as most European Nationals resident in the UK are now trying to switch their status and become British Citizens before Britain leaves the EU. Previously most European nationals and their family members did not see the need to become British as they could live and work in the UK under EEA regulations without any restrictions.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding their legal status in the UK after Brexit, most EEA Nationals are choosing to become British instead of waiting to see what status the British Government will bestow upon them when Britain ceases to be a member of the EU. It is important to note that there are no immediate changes as far as Brexit is concerned. Britain is still a member of the EU and will continue to be so until it has followed the formal exit procedures under the EU treaty. At this stage, the indication is that the actual exit from the EU will take place in 2019.
Official figures indicate that about 3 million EEA Nationals live in the UK. The record number of applications for British Citizenship means that the Home Office might take longer than the current timescale of 6 months to process applications for British Citizenship in some applications.
Given the current rush for British Citizenship, it is perhaps an opportune time for those who are eligible to apply for it to consider joining the queue now. However, people need to be aware that applying for British citizenship nowadays has become a lot like playing the lottery, one cannot be sure if they will get it. The government policy in this area of law has shifted significantly over the years and it certainly seems that the current policy is to limit the numbers of people being granted British Citizenship. The requirements for applying for British Citizenship have been modified with the result that a lot of applications that would have been easily granted before the revision of the requirements are now being refused.
It is the good character requirement that is proving to be a hurdle for many people as the Home office can now rely on a number of factors to conclude that a person is not of good character. In 2014, the Home Office came up with a detailed guidance on what factors they would take into account when considering whether an applicant meets the good character requirement. Their guidance is very detailed- going over 31 pages. It lists a number of factors which the Home Office will take into account when assessing a person’s character. Some of the factors to be taken into account include the following:
- Criminal convictions- they will take into account any criminal sentences served and any out of court disposals such as fines, warnings, cautions and reprimands.
- Immigration history- breaches of immigration rules such as over staying at any stage during the period of residence, working without valid leave to remain in the UK, facilitating illegal migration are factors that are likely to lead to a refusal
- Financial Soundness- they will take into account bankruptcy or insolvency, unpaid debts where there is a pattern of accumulating the debts;
The full 31 page guidance can be found at the government’s www.gov.uk website.
From a solicitor’s perspective, the fact that a person has committed any of the acts listed in the guidance does not necessarily mean that they are not of good character. There are defences that a person can rely on in order for the breach to be overlooked depending on the facts of the case. From my experience, the Home Office decision will depend on the nature and degree of the breach and whether or not the Caseworker who decides the application will be persuaded by the explanation and arguments provided in defence of the breach. After all applications for British Citizenship by naturalisation are decided at the discretion of the Secretary of State. One has to be able to convince the Home Office to exercise discretion in his or her favour and allow the application despite negative factors in their history.
Thankfully the High Court has weighed in on the matter and issued some very helpful precedents on how a person’s character should be assessed. The Courts have established that there has to be a comprehensive assessment of a person’s character when these applications are considered instead of adopting a tick box approach. In one of the cases the High Court dealt with, the claimant in that case had a conviction and the Home Office had relied on that to turn down his application for British Citizenship. The High Court quashed that decision.
In practice, I have not seen the Home Office following the above precedents in all cases as they should. Some people have been refused for petty reasons such as a fine for not paying a TV licence but of course these are decisions that can be challenged depending on the facts of the case.
I have had the privilege of seeing people with breaches being granted citizenship whilst other people with the same breaches have their applications refused so there is some hope. Each case is decided on its own facts.
Click on the links below for Primerose’s videos on British Citizenship law;
Please note that this article does not seek to provide direct legal advice in people’s individual cases. If you are affected by the Immigration reforms in the UK, please seek advice from a professional.
Primerose Makunzva is a Solicitor and Partner at IPS Legal Solicitors LLP in Central London. She can be contacted on 07818 066522/ 0203 1765216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Immigration law video updates can be viewed at www.ailtv.com or on youtube.
Disclaimer: This article only provides general information and guidance on immigration law. The writer will not accept any liability for any claims or inconvenience as a result of this information.