Children who do not automatically acquire British citizenship at birth may apply for registration as British citizens. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, applicants who meet certain conditions are legally entitled to registration, others may be granted registration at the Home Secretary’s discretion.
In the latter case, applications from ‘young persons’ (defined in the Act as ‘a person who has attained the age of 10 years at the time when the application is made’) ‘must not be granted unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that’ the ‘young person is of good character.’ Adults (those over 18) apply for naturalisation rather than registration, but the same legislation applies in relation to good character.
I inspected how the Home Office was interpreting ‘good character’ in the case of ‘young persons’ who apply for registration as British citizens. In particular, I looked at whether the guidance made available to Home Office caseworkers was appropriate, especially in relation to criminal convictions and immigration-related offences or breaches of Home Office immigration controls.
I found that since December 2012 Home Office policy had tightened in relation to the good character requirement, so that young persons were now subject to the same guidance as adults. As a result, the lengthy bans from applying for citizenship imposed on anyone found to be not of good character prevented some young persons from applying and being considered while still a minor.
The report makes two recommendations, both related to a further review of the guidance to ensure children are safeguarded and their best interests taken fully into account.
I would like to thank the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) for their contributions. In this short inspection, I was unable to look at all of the concerns they raised. However, as I have indicated in my inspection programme, I plan to look in more detail at how children are treated and affected by the borders and immigration system, and hope shortly to receive the results of the expert review I commissioned to help kick start this work.