Immigration and Nationality Application Fees — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:31 pm on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 1:31 pm, 25th March 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered immigration and nationality application fees.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I have an important issue to highlight today about an injustice that has long been a concern of mine in my constituency. I am pleased to see so many Members in attendance. Many more offered support for the debate, which I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting.

This issue has a big impact on a relatively small number of people. There is a wider issue about the fees for immigration and citizenship, but I will focus on particular on young people who were not born in the UK but arrived as children and for whom this is their only home. I am aware of the interest in the debate and know that cross-party colleagues from around the House will have more specific issues to raise, so I will not take too much of their time.

We have seen a pattern in the increase in fees and the route to citizenship that is having a detrimental effect on many of my constituents. It affects adults and young people who arrive in the UK and seek to become citizens. Whatever our politics or our party, I think we all agree that we should be proud that people want to become citizens of the United Kingdom and seek to get a British passport, but for young people in particular the route to citizenship is having a big impact and depriving them of fulfilling their full role in British society.

Let me give a bit of history. I have been the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch for nearly 16 years, and when I was first elected somebody could apply for one leave to remain application that would last for five years, and after five years they could apply for citizenship, so they would pay two fees. It moved to applying for three years at a time, so two applications were needed to get to the five years. Now, people have to apply at least three times: that would get them to five years, but those on the 10-year route to citizenship must apply multiple times.

The fees have also gone up individually. For a registration of a child as a British citizen, in April 2011—six years after I was elected—it was £540 and this year it is expected to be £1,012. For indefinite leave to remain for main applicants and children, in 2011 it was £972 for the main applicant—typically the head of the household—and in 2021 it is £2,389 for the main applicant and for dependents, too. Dependents used to be about half the price of a main applicant. When we look at the combined impact of the fees, we see it is incredibly expensive. It adds up typically to more than £10,000 for somebody to apply.

It is important to touch on the implications for the Government vision for a global Britain as part of an international community where we attract talent. We know in the past we have had challenges attracting people to universities in this country. English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia advertised in other countries’ newspapers for people to apply to them, saying that their fees are cheaper. So there is a direct impact on the Government’s own policies.

It is impossible to compare fees completely across countries, but I will give a couple of examples. In Ireland, the naturalisation fees for adults or children is €175, or roughly £150. Denmark has a standard naturalisation fee of 3,800 krone, or roughly £438—forgive me if my exchange rates are a few days out. In Canada, the fee for adult citizenship applications is roughly £306. We are looking at a very different scale, and that is alongside the hoops that people have to go through.

Let me just do a little bit of maths for the Minister and add up some of the costs. Let us not forget that we have to add the immigration surcharge, now £400 per person per year. For an application for two and a half years’ leave to remain, that adds £1,000 on top. That increased in October last year to £624 per person per year, or £470 for applicants under 18. That is £1,560 for an adult applying for two and a half years’ leave to remain. We have to remember that two and a half years’ leave to remain gets someone just two and a half years’ leave to remain. Before that ends, they have to be putting in the fees and the application for the next process. Barely has a household got over the cost of paying these fees than it has to start saving up for the next application.

Over a 10-year period of qualifying residence, if the fees do not change, the overall cost would be, for a single adult, £10,372 and for a family of four, £38,408. I highlight the family of four figure, because I am talking particularly of people in my constituency who are affected, who arrived here as children and for whom this is the country they know, the country in which they have been to school and the country that they love.

The Greater London Authority estimates that around 330,000 children and young people have precarious citizenship status. That does not mean that they are all on the route to citizenship. Relative to the Minister’s overall workload, only a small number of people are affected, if we look at just young people—because it will be a subset of that group—but it is a very significant group in terms of what they could deliver to the UK.

We have had some recent announcements on the Government’s proposals on entrepreneurial visas. I represent Shoreditch, so I know all about the tech visas and the entrepreneurial visas. For the global talent visa, for example, the application fee is £152 for the main applicant, though it can rise to £456 in certain circumstances. Even an extension of that is only £608. An innovator visa is just over £1,000 and a 10-year private family grounds visa is £1,033 per person for the main applicant or a dependant.

The difference is extraordinary; it is tenfold. That makes it very unfair, because the people I am talking about have grown up in the UK, they have been educated in the UK and they want to stay in the UK. They have no other country that is home. They may have parents who come from another country and they may have been born in another country, but that is not their home. They feel part of British society. We are making them a second-class part of British society by putting these fee barriers in their path.

For many families, if they have the choice between having the main breadwinner become a citizen, or the rest of the family, the choice will be straightforward. They make just one member of the family a citizen and the others do not qualify for it without paying the fees. For the young people I am talking about, they often do not realise until they are 18 and they would like to go to university—I pay tribute to We Belong, an organisation that is partly the brainchild of my constituent, Chrisann Jarrett. Suddenly, on top of those fees that they have not been able to pay, they are faced with international student fees. They want to be full, contributing members of British society; in fact, they want to be British citizens, but they are priced out. At the same time as we are encouraging entrepreneurs and innovators to come in on cheaper visas to contribute to the wealth of our country, we have a wealth of talent already here that is keen, willing and able to contribute. For these children and young people, the UK is home. They are not going to go anywhere else and they want to contribute.

As the Children’s Society recognises, about half of children with foreign-born parents live in poverty. These are not wealthy families necessarily; I will say clearly, though, that in my experience there is no poverty of ambition. These are working households, but the fees are out of reach of anyone on a low, average or even rather good wage, so I think it is time that the Home Office looked at this.

The Government have made great play of leaving the European Union. They have made announcements recently about Britain’s place in the world and global Britain. They need now to follow up with actions and support these young world citizens who want to become British citizens; they are living in our communities now and are keen to contribute. I hope that the Minister will give us a full answer on the justification for these citizenship fees, and a hint that the Government are considering a change of direction.