U.K. Immigration Bill Threatens Millions Of Ethnic Minority Britons’ #Citizenship Rights

More on the implications of the draft legislation:

A bill to dramatically reform the U.K.’s immigration system is currently under consideration in the country’s parliament. Within the bill is a clause that could cause the grave deprivation of the citizenship rights of minority-ethnic Britons.

The Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is responsible for immigration in the U.K. Commonly referred to as the ‘anti-refugee’ bill, it has generated considerable controversy among immigration lawyers, experts and activists for its sweeping changes to the immigration rules, many of which would make the process of seeking asylum in the U.K. considerably more difficult and dangerous.

Less well known than the asylum part of the bill, however, is a clause that would give the Home Office greater powers to strip Britons of their citizenship, without warning or notice. The Home Office does already have the power to remove citizenship, for a variety of reasons, and has done so several hundred times in the last few decades.

Perhaps most well known of these are the cases of U.K.-born Shamima Begum and Jack Letts. Both were stripped of their British citizenship after travelling to Syria, allegedly to join ISIS. British law, as well as multiple international human rights conventions, prohibit rendering someone stateless. This was not an issue in Letts’ case, as he already possessed Canadian citizenship through his father, and therefore would not be made stateless by losing his British citizenship.

Begum’s case was more complicated, however. Born in the U.K. to Bangladeshi parents, Begum had only British citizenship. Nonetheless, the U.K. government argued she could gain Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, despite Bangladesh’s assertion that she did not have Bangladeshi citizenship, would be denied it if she applied, and would be refused entry into the country.

In effect Begum was vulnerable to being made stateless simply because she had an identifiable minority ethnic background. This episode revealed that people born to first-, second-, or even third-generation immigrants do not enjoy the same security of citizenship as those with longer roots in the country. Such a situation in essence creates two classes of citizenship. People with ethnic minority backgrounds can be stripped of their citizenship under the auspices of maybe being eligible for citizenship elsewhere, while white ethnic Britons’ citizenship rights remain intact.

Clause 9 of the new Nationality and Borders bill aggravates this situation by making the process opaque to those who are affected by it. It would give the government the right to strip Britons of their citizenship without giving them notice. This means someone may become stateless without even knowing it, and miss the opportunity to appeal their deprivation.

There are around six million people in the U.K. with an ethnic minority background that could, should the Nationality and Borders Bill become law, be rendered stateless without their even knowing it.

“I received my British citizenship last summer, after almost 14 years of being an asylum seeker & refugee” wrote one prominent refugee advocate on Twitter. “But now due to the (Nationality and Borders Bill) I am not safe, the Home Secretary can revoke & take it away at her discretion.”

A plethora of legal experts, NGOs, activists and campaign groups have urged the government to drop Clause 9. They argue that without notification or knowledge that they need to appeal a citizenship deprivation, millions of ethnic minority Britons could be made stateless under the spurious claim that they may be eligible for another citizenship elsewhere.

“(Clause 9) is a very damaging piece of legislation which I hope, as the bill goes through its various stages, will be eliminated” said Alf Dubs, a member of the U.K.’s House of Lords and former child refugee while speaking with IMIX. “We cannot allow people to be made stateless. Surely citizenship is our right and not a privilege, and that’s something we have to defend very firmly.”

An official petition on the government website to remove the clause received over 300,000 signatures, well past the threshold where the government is obliged to respond. The response, however, was steadfast.

“This clause is (…) necessary to avoid the situation where we could never deprive a person of their British citizenship just because it is not practicable, or not possible, to communicate with them” reads the Home Office reply. “Preserving the ability to make decisions in this way is vitally important to preserve the integrity of the U.K. immigration system and to protect the security of the U.K. from those who would wish to do us harm.”

The Home Office asserts Clause 9 will not affect a person’s right to appeal their citizenship deprivation. There is, however, a contradiction inherent in that statement, neatly summed up by Dan Sohege, a specialist in international refugee law:

“How exactly can someone appeal the removal of their citizenship if they don’t know that their citizenship has been removed?”

Source: U.K. Immigration Bill Threatens Millions Of Ethnic Minority Britons’ Citizenship Rights

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to U.K. Immigration Bill Threatens Millions Of Ethnic Minority Britons’ #Citizenship Rights

  1. Robert Addington says:

    The latest chapter in the messy history of British nationality law.

    Each country makes its own citizenship law and decides who its citizens are. Britain cannot determine that anyone is a citizen of Bangladesh or any other country. And dumping unwanted citizens in countries where they may have no family or even speak the language is a thoroughly disreputable policy. Canada did this briefly under the former government.

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