Brexit: How to get a British Passport - Channel 4 Dispatches

TX Monday 26th June, Channel 4, 8pm

Hundreds of thousands of passport-less children being thrown into a legal limbo in the wake of Brexit, a Dispatches investigation has revealed. The programme also explores claims in which the Home Office is obstructive in processing children's citizenship applications

  • Dispatches reveals that there are already 120,000 children and young people born or raised in the UK who think that they are British but will not automatically gain citizenship.
  • Of the 120,000 it is estimated that there are 65,000 young people born in the UK with no legal residence.
  • It costs £973 to register a child for British Citizenship - it costs the government £386 to process the paperwork. The remainder, £587, is profit.
  • Since the time Theresa May was Home Secretary fees for citizenship have risen more than 9x the rate of inflation
  • Between 2012 and 2015 only 6,130 children registered themselves as British

Today a report from Coram, one of Britain a oldest and most highly respected children's charities, released exclusively to Dispatches reveals the growing crisis faced by people who've grown up in Britain but are prevented from becoming British.

Professor Jonathan Portes is a former Chief Government Economist and trustee Coram. “This report highlights a really big problem that most of us know nothing about, there are literally tens of thousands of children in the UK who are not British and who do not have the rights and entitlements the rest of us have. I think most people would agree that a child who is here, who has spent all or most of their life here, regardless of what, irregularities their parents may have committed, that child is for all intents and purposes British.

How to get a British passport:

If you’re born in the UK, you can get one as long as:

- One of your parents is British, or

- One of your parents has the right to live here permanently.

- You can also get one if you are born in the UK and stay until the age of ten.

Change in Home Office Policy re: EU Citizens:

- Between 2007 and 2011, the Home Office refused 18.5% of applications in EU citizens. In the following five years that more than doubled – to 36.2%.

Dr Anthony Valcke - a consultant on the legal rights of EU citizens, “What we do know is that there are over 3 million EU citizens currently in the UK who are going to have to prove they have the right to live and work there. At present they don’t have the paperwork to be able to do that and at current processing rates it’s going to take the Home Office at least 40 years to be able to process them all. We’ve seen that a lot of people are having their applications rejected. The numbers of refusals have gone up, quite significantly in the last 5 years.

It seems that there’s been a political decision taken to try and prevent as many people as possible from gaining permanent residence in the UK. And the way that’s been done is by interpreting the rules in a much more restrictive way”

The Home Office told Dispatches: “It is completely untrue that any political decision has been taken to increase refusals of applications for permanent residency documentation”

Case study – Silke and Matteo – European children living in the UK:

Silke and Matteo live in Maidenhead; they were both born in Britain. Silke, 10, has a British passport, but her brother Matteo does not.

Children born in this country, like Matteo, can only get a British passport if their parents are either British or "settled" here. For EU citizens, you become "settled" here by living here for the five years immediately before your child's birth. Luca and Veerle didn't do that because they lived in Germany for a year a couple of years before Matteo was born.

But because they were here for five years immediately before Silke was born, she automatically becomes a British citizen and gets a passport.

When Luca contacts the Home Office he finds out that his son can get a British passport after all, because he has lived in the UK for the first ten years of his life. But first he’ll need to become a British Citizen, which will cost £973.

The Home Office told Dispatches: “Some areas where we charge a fee are set at above cost in order to cover areas that are not directly fee-funded”

The only way to secure their future here is to apply for Permanent Residence in the UK. This will allow them to qualify for British citizenship and British passports later. In the meantime Permanent Residence guarantees their right to live and work here. To get it -they have to fill in a form that’s 85 pages long.

In addition, applicants need to supply evidence to back up these answers that can amount to hundreds of pages. The Home Office recently introduced a speedier - online - version of this form but you still have to provide all the paperwork.

Last year the number of EU citizens applying for Permanent Residence in Britain doubled. There are 588,000 European children living in the UK – it is still unknown whether they can live in the UK once Britain leaves the EU.

- There are around 300,000 European children living in the UK who weren’t born here.

Experts say that without a confirmed Brexit deal the future for them is unclear.

Professor Jonathan Portes, “I think there’s a serious risk that in 5 or 10 years we’ll see a new group of children emerging, whose legal status is uncertain and who are left in limbo.”

Case Study – Victoria – Children born in the UK to parents with no right to remain:

Victoria, 11, lives in South London – she was born in the UK but because her mother has no right to stay neither does she. Victoria is entitled to become a British citizen but not until she has paid the £973 fee.

Victoria, “It’s not fair because my mum, she doesn’t have a lot of money on her. She’s not really working cause they won’t allow her to have a job”

Although Victoria has a legal right to a British passport, Home Office officials are trying to deport her and her mother to Nigeria. The Home Office are aware that the only issue preventing Victoria from registering her right as a British Citizen is the fee.

- Since Theresa may become home secretary fees for citizenship have risen more than 9x the rate of inflation.

- There are 65,000 others in Victoria’s position - young people born and raised here but with no legal rights until they become British.

Case study – Helen and Agnes – Children born abroad but living in the UK since infancy:

Helen was brought to the UK from West Africa illegally by her grandparents when she was 2 months old. She has lived in London ever since, and didn’t realise that she wasn’t British until she turned 18.

Helen is not entitled to a British passport because she was born abroad and her parents weren’t British or "settled" when she was born.

Helen must now apply, through the Immigration process, for Leave to Remain. When she's had Leave to Remain for ten years she can apply to become naturalised as a British citizen and then she is entitled to a passport. The whole process will cost more than £8,000

There are at least 60,000 people who’ve lived here since they were young but aren’t legally British. It is causing a generational problem, because Helen’s not British, neither is her daughter Maya so the cycle repeats itself.

Agnes was born in the Gambia, she is at present going through the process of living here for ten years with Leave to Remain before becoming naturalised.

Because she now has Leave to Remain she is entitled to a student loan but not until three years after she's got the Leave.

But in Agnes's case, the Home Office took four years to decide her family’s case which means that the delay has stopped her getting student finance in time for her to take up her offer at a place at Manchester University.

The Home Office said, “We do not routinely comment on individual cases” but said that: “in the last quarter of last year, officials attended 92% of all hearings”

The Home Office told Dispatches that cases like this were decided on average within 57 days.

Case Study – Darjay

In 2014 Darjay applied for British citizenship, but the Home Office reject him. He was born in Jamaica and brought to the UK ages 3. His lawyer took his case to the High Court and won – Darjay is now a British Citizen.

Critics say that they have to fight Home Office decisions like this far too often.

Annie Campbell, Supervising Caseworker, Camden Community Law Centre, “We win, we win all our cases. Last year alone the Home Office ended up paying us in the region of £50,000. It is not a good way for public money to be spent and if that is my experience in this one law centre in London it has to be that all the other places in the UK are also in the same position.”

The Home office said, “We continue to have an extremely successful record in cases that are taken to judicial review”

Coram report:

Dr Carol Homden, CBE and Chief Executive of Coram said: “The rights of all children should be protected and an upheld without exception. As Brexit negotiations commence, and we wait to fully understand the fate of EU children in the UK, it is more important than ever to ensure that children who have grown up here are able to have secure status and build their futures in this country.”

Coram’s report “This is My Home” is available from 00.01am Monday 26 June at

Brexit: How to get a British Passport - Channel 4 Dispatches - Mon 26th June, C4, 8pm

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