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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:49 pm on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 1:49 pm, 25th March 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. My hon. Friend Rob Roberts made some very insightful comments in describing the impact that fees can have on individuals as they make their journey through the immigration system from newly arriving in our country to becoming full citizens. I am pleased to be able to highlight a couple of aspects of that, because it is important that, in the context of global Britain and a different approach to managing immigration, we consider the measures and steps that we need in both our border process and the way we manage citizenship in order to make it a better experience for all.

We should start by recognising that what is often referred to today as the “hostile environment” has developed under parties of all colours in Government, starting in the early 2000s, when people who were seeking asylum began to lose their entitlements to certain benefits. As the Home Office begins to move away from seeking to enforce caps on numbers, and towards a system that is designed to incentivise the right people who want to contribute to our economy to become citizens of the United Kingdom by taking up the offer of citizenship, we would expect to see a range of changes.

Charges for people to gain their citizenship are by no means unusual. In fact, if people wish to get into many other countries and receive a work permit—Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and indeed many European countries—such countries apply a similar system whereby they expect people to pay a contribution towards the costs. Certainly in my time in local government, when I used to see people coming to the town hall for the citizenship ceremony and to swear their oath, it was very clear that they saw this as something incredibly precious that they felt it was worth saving towards and that marked a landmark moment in their lives.

However, there are those for whom the costs are a significant barrier, and I particularly highlight the impact on children and the risk in respect of children who are in the care system, where clearly there is a possibility that this simply becomes a cost that is shoved on to the budgets of local authorities. Certainly in my experience as a councillor in a local authority with very large numbers of refugee children, it would almost invariably be in the best interests of those children to seek to gain citizenship for them. That was often challenging for bureaucratic reasons, especially when there was no documentation available to demonstrate who those individuals were in order to regularise their position, but it was made even more challenging if a local authority was expected to pay significant citizenship charges to achieve that status for them, which was an expectation laid down as a result of the laws of the United Kingdom. I would like to hear from the Home Office that, as we review the way we support refugee children in this country, given that the numbers arriving into the UK have on average doubled since 2015—we are talking about significant numbers of young people in the care of a very large number of local authorities—we will ensure that we do not impose additional costs on local authorities that are simply seeking to do the right thing by those young people.

Both Meg Hillier and my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn spelt out very clearly what the impact can be on families when a significant number of individuals all need to pay the fee. Similarly, when we consider the impact on children in that situation—mum or dad feel that it is simply too expensive and too difficult to save the money for the fee—we should think about how that might deter people who would make fantastic British citizens from doing it. Again, it would be good to hear that, as part of the consideration of what the future will be for our borders policy, we may have a system that recognises the value that families add, that supports them on their journey through the system and that ensures that the fees, although they are rightly high for something that is incredibly precious and costs a good deal of money to administer, are not a barrier to making sure that the full range of people who want to come to contribute to our life in the United Kingdom are able to do so.