UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

As it should. Cost recovery is justifiable (administrative cost), making of government service a money-making enterprise is not:

The Home Office is set to face a High Court challenge over the £1,012 fee it charges to register a child as a British citizen, after a judicial review of the charge was brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens.

Amnesty International UK has been supporting the litigation to challenge the profit-making element of the fee, calling for an immediate end to the Government’s “shameless profiteering” off children’s rights. Mishcon de Reya are providing pro bono support to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens on the case.

With the current administrative processing cost at only £372 per application, a profit of £640 is made by the Home Office for the registration of each child.

The landmark case is being brought by two children, known as A and O, and will be heard in the High Court at a three-day hearing on 26-28 November. If successful, the final ruling could have implications for an estimated 120,000 people in the UK.

In a statement submitted as part of the proceedings, O, aged 12, says:

“I was born in England in 2007. I have never travelled to another country. I don’t want to tell my friends that I am not British like them because I’m scared. I worry that if my friends find out, they won’t understand that I really am British like them.

“I enjoy playing netball for my school team. My team have been abroad twice for netball tournaments, but I could not travel because I do not have my British passport.

“I was born here and feel all of me is British. This is my home. I’ve got nowhere else but here.”

Solange Valdez-Symonds, Director at the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, said:

“Tens of thousands of children who were born in this country are being charged exorbitant fees to register their citizenship rights. The futures of these children are slowly and silently being chipped away. Such barefaced profiteering from children by the Home Office is utterly shameful.

“Children’s rights are not for sale. We hope the High Court challenge will rightly bring an end to this injustice.”

Campaigners call on UK Government to stop blocking children’s rights

Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, campaigners from Amnesty UK’s Children Human Rights Network will hand in 30,000-strong petition to Home Office calling for immediate end to the fee.

The campaigners will be building a wall outside the Home Office with messages of support from activists across the UK [pictures available].

They will be joined by some of the children affected by the profiteering fee, including 16-year-old Daniel, who came to this country with his mother when he was three years-old and was granted his British citizenship last year, he said:

“My mother saved what she could but sometimes she didn’t eat properly so she could do this. At the time we had some support from the council but my mother was not then permitted to work except unpaid as a volunteer with a charity. It has been really difficult for my mother.”

Judicial review

The judicial review claim asks the Home Office to:

i) Set the registration fee at no more than the administrative cost;

ii) introduce a fee waiver for children who cannot afford the fee; and

iii) provide a fee exemption for children in local authority care.

Source: UK: Government faces high court challenge over ‘utterly shameful’ £1000 child citizenship fee

Number of immigrants becoming Canadian citizens drops

CBC’s take on the StatsCan report, largely based on my interview (All in a Day):

Fewer Canadian immigrants became citizens in 2016 than 1996, according to a new study released by Statistics Canada this week, though more recent developments  may be addressing some of the issues at play.

The citizenship rate among recent immigrants was just over 75 per cent in 1996, but declined to 60 per cent in 2016.

“There are a number of factors that created the decline,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, on CBC Radio’s All in a Day Thursday.

Griffith said that part of the reason may be financial.

The processing fee for citizenship used to be $200, but the amount was increased to $630 under the previous Conservative government, Griffith said.

“If you look at a family of four, you’re talking about $1,500 or so,” he said. “That’s a significant burden.”

The Liberals were re-elected to a minority government last month with a platform that included eliminating this application fee.

There was a spike in citizenship applications late in 2017, after the period covered by the study, when the federal government relaxed some of the residency and language rules.

Complicated language

Another issue, according to Griffith, is that more complex language is used in the new citizenship study guide.

In order to obtain citizenship, people must take a written test on Canada and the government.

The guide was revised about a decade ago, and Griffith said it includes more sophisticated language.

As a result, people with lower levels of education can have a harder time.

“You’re creating an additional barrier that doesn’t need to be there,” he said.

He added that it’s possible to simplify the language in the study guide without simplifying the content.

Big decline in East Asian immigrants

The study also revealed the decline in citizenship rates was most pronounced among East Asian immigrants.

In 1996 the citizenship rate among East Asian immigrants was at 83 per cent, but that was down to 45 per cent by 2016.

Chinese immigrants drove the majority of this decline, according to Statistics Canada, which may demonstrate their changing preference for keeping Chinese citizenship while the country experiences significant economic growth.

In comparison, the rate among immigrants from western Europe, South America and the United States remained stable or slightly declined.

The percentage of recent immigrants obtaining Canadian citizenship is seeing a noticeable decline especially among those with lower family incomes, levels of education, and knowledge of English or French. In this hour…a former director with Citizenship and Immigration tells us why this is the case. 10:23

Being a citizen gives new Canadians the ability to enter or leave Canada freely, the right to a Canadian passport, as well as the right to vote in Canadian elections.

But Griffith also emphasized how the broader Canadian public benefits from having new citizens.

“Immigrants who choose to become Canadians tend to be more involved in Canadian society, more engaged in Canadian society, contribute more to Canadian society,” he said.

“So there’s a mix of that private benefit to the individual and public benefits to society.”

Source: Nov. 14, 2019: New study shows decline in percentage of recent immigrants obtaining Canadian citizenship10:24

New Trump Administration Proposal Would Charge Asylum Seekers an Application Fee

More fulsome article and information than posted previously. Not to improve service but to pay for ICE. Clear intent to reduce immigration and citizenship uptake:

The Trump administration on Friday proposed hiking a range of fees assessed on those pursuing legal immigration and citizenship, as well as for the first time charging those fleeing persecution for seeking protection in the United States.

The rule, which will be published on Thursday and will have a monthlong comment period, would increase citizenship fees more than 60 percent, to $1,170 from $725, for most applicants. For some, the increase would reach 83 percent. The government would also begin charging asylum seekers $50 for applications and $490 for work permits, a move that would make the United States one of four countries to charge people for asylum.

It would also increase renewal fees for hundreds of thousands of participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. That group, known as “Dreamers,”would need to pay $765, rather than $495, for a renewal request. The fee hike comes days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the validity of President Trump’s justification to terminate DACA.

“Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.”

Trump wants to nearly double US citizenship application fees

Yet another deliberate barrier to citizenship. Hard to see how the processing costs could be that high (over twice Canada’s, which, of course, the re-elected Liberal government has promised to eliminate):

The Trump administration is considering raising the cost of U.S. citizenship applications, according to a Department of Homeland Security rule filed on Friday.

The fee for the U.S. citizenship application would increase to $1,170 – from $640, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

A number of other cost increases were proposed, as well as the addition of a $50 fee for asylum applications.

According to the document, a biennial fee review determined that current fees “do not recover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services” at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Without an increase in funding, the government predicts the agency would experience an average annual shortfall of $1.2 billion.

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed adjusting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration fees “by a weighted average increase of 21 percent,” in addition to adding fees for some benefit requests. U.S. immigration services is primarily funded by fees charged to applicants and petitioners.

Written comments must be submitted within 30 days from the date the rule is published in the federal register, which will be on Thursday.

The last time the fee schedule was adjusted was at the end of 2016.

Source: Trump wants to nearly double US citizenship application fees

Opinion: Applying for US Citizenship Should be Free

Ironically, just as the Liberal platform came out promising to eliminate citizenship fees, saw this US advocacy piece:

It shouldn’t cost a cent for an immigrant to apply for United States citizenship. Here’s why:

After residing in the United States with their green card for five years (or many more), having “good moral character” and maintaining limited travel, immigrants visit us so we can assist with preparing their application and prepping them for their interview. While the thousands of immigrants come to our Citizenship Department at CASA in Maryland, meet ALL of the requirements for citizenship, more than half of them cannot afford the exorbitant price tag that comes along with applying. It’s wrong.

Over the last 34 years, the fee for naturalization has risen exponentially from $35 in 1985 to an incredible $725 to apply today. With the fee on the rise, many eligible immigrants fear that they will never be able to apply for citizenship in their lifetime. The message that we are sending to our immigrants is clear: sure, you can become a citizen…if you can afford it. In alignment with President Trump’s recent attack on poor immigrants with the passing of the recent public charge ruling, the fee itself discriminates against low-income folks who should be able to naturalize easily.

It’s important to note that the $725 fee doesn’t come close to the total financial burden in actual costs that immigrants have invested in the process. Many applying are also paying hundreds of dollars for English classes, U.S. history and government classes, legal fees, transportation fees, and are already sacrificing chunks of their paychecks when taking off from work to complete the process.

Why do green card holders want to get their citizenship? Because it grants them a long list of benefits from voting in elections for candidates that represent their interests to having access to better jobs and overall better economic prosperity. Additionally, with the administration’s heinous language and policies on immigration, even immigrants who are residing in the U.S. legally fear for deportation more than ever, though they have a right to U.S. citizenship after meeting the requirements.

The bottom line is this: Money should not be a barrier to U.S. citizenship.

Many people argue that these immigration fees are necessary, since the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes citizenship applications, doesn’t get funding directly from the government. But perhaps, this is a signal that Congress should allocate taxpayer money to cover citizenship processing fees.

Applying for citizenship should cost nothing. As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) mentioned in a recent interview in regard to his proposed bill to increase access to fee waivers, “Citizenship promotes integration, civic responsibility, and a sense of community, which ultimately benefits all Americans.”

There are currently fee waivers available for low-income immigrants that an applicant can apply for based on their income level, their receipt of means-tested benefits, or financial hardship. However, the income-based requirement, that requires applicants to prove their income was at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline, doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of those who are in need.

I personally know many families who take out personal loans to afford the fee. Keep in mind that nearly half of the US population doesn’t have just $300 to cover an unanticipated expense.

To make things worse, USCIS has recently proposed to stop granting waivers for applicants who currently receive means tested benefits like Medicaid. In other words, USCIS has basically decided that only their office can determine whether a person needs assistance or not – despite state benefit granting agencies assessing need-based eligibility for years.

To those who are eligible for citizenship, apply now if you want to have a chance at voting in the 2020 election. Many local and state governments and non-profit organizations have temporary solutions to assist green card holders with the fee. For example, Montgomery County has partnered with CASA to provide ascholarship for residents of the county applying for citizenship. Other organizations like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and other members of the National Partnership for New Americans, are working hard to come up with solutions to make the fee more affordable for applicants. But this cannot be a permanent solution.

As a country, this cannot be how we treat people who have sacrificed everything to be here and who have contributed so deeply, both culturally and economically, to the core of our country. The physical and emotional cost of immigrating to a new country is high enough. When it comes to the brotherhood and sisterhood of our American family, a majority of immigrants, to us, are already United States citizens. Now it’s time for Congress to lift the financial hardship and make it possible for them to act as full citizens.

Source: Opinion: Applying for US Citizenship Should be Free

Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

Not much media coverage or commentary to date:

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the application fee for Canadian citizenship, removing what some immigrant advocates have called a key barrier for many newcomers.

Tucked in the party’s platform released Sunday is a promise to make the path to citizenship “more affordable.” The estimated cost is $400 million over four years.

“Becoming a citizen allows new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society and the process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee,” the platform reads. “To make citizenship more affordable, we will make the application process free for those who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it.”

The processing fee is now $530, which was hiked from $100 by the previous Conservative government. There is also a $100 “right of citizenship” fee.

Cost is considered a hurdle for many newcomers hoping to become Canadian citizens, especially low-income refugee families.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has pressed the government to eliminate it.

Added costs for citizenship

“The application fee is only one of the costs people have to assume — for example, many people have to pay for a test to prove they speak English or French well enough,” said CCR executive director Janet Dench.

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official and author on immigration issues, said while he has long railed against the “steep” increase brought in by the Conservatives, he doesn’t see the need to eliminate fees entirely.

Becoming a citizen benefits Canada in terms of improved integration and participation and benefits the citizen with the right to a Canadian passport and voting rights, he said. Griffith said a fee of $300 would reflect that balance.

Shouldn’t be free

“Waiving the fees completely, at a cost of some $100 million a year, is excessive and will likely be perceived as political positioning to attract immigrant voters, rather than being evidence-based,” he said.

“To my knowledge, no Western country offers free citizenship.”

According to Elections Canada, there were 337,265 Canadian citizens added to the national register since the 2015 election.

In 2017, the Liberals loosened some rules around citizenship. They reduced the length of time that would-be citizens must be physically present in Canada. They lowered the age range for language and knowledge requirements. The fee remained the same.

In a statement to CBC, Ahmed Hussen, the immigration minister who is seeking re-election as an MP, said the promise stems from consultations on how to improve the system.

“We heard from groups across the country who have said that the prohibitive fees were stopping families from finally becoming Canadian. Currently, the cost of applying for citizenship for an average family of four is almost $1,500,” he said.

Source: Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

CIC news also covered the platform commitment:

Analysis: Why the Liberals are proposing a Municipal Nominee Program and free citizenship applications

On Canada Day, let’s reconsider the high cost of citizenship

While I have long advocated for a decrease in citizenship fees, given the mix of personal and public benefits of citizenship, her points on permanent residency fees miss the fact that these only cover processing costs, not the more than $1 billion the government spends on settlement services such as language training.

Both Conservative and Liberal governments in their substantial funding for settlement services demonstrate their recognition of the public, not just personal, benefits of immigration.

Similarly, while citizenship data (administrative and Census) show some groups adversely affected by the 2014-15 fee increases and other changes, visible minorities form close to 80 percent of all immigrants, so hard to make the case that this is a major barrier:

At any international airport, the passport of those making their way through customs could be a source of envy or a source of pity, quietly communicating the perceived quality of life lived by its holder. Voluminous emigration and immigration have turned citizenship into the “most significant class lottery remaining in the modern world,” in the words of one journalist. Perhaps recognizing this, many countries including Canada have successfully capitalized on immigration.

The path to Canadian citizenship has gone through a series of changes. In the past, in addition to being able to marry into citizenship, one could literally buy citizenship – a program Quebec continues to this day. Currently, the journey to citizenship begins with permanent residency. Apart from transitioning from a student or worker to a permanent resident, other options include using foreign entry programs such as Family Sponsorship, Economic, and Business Immigration.

Regardless of the option, in addition to the application cost comes a payment of $490 for the right of permanent residence fee, without which permanent residence status is not granted. Protected persons are exempt from this expense.

Introduced in 1995 and levied on individuals seeking permanent residency,first at a hefty price of $975, the fee is seen as “a partial compensation for benefits which accrue to the person who acquires permanent resident status and helps to defray various costs incurred in delivering the immigration program.” But this may not have been the only reason for its introduction.

The right of permanent residence fee (then called right of landing fee) came at a time when there was an increase in immigrants from Asia and the Middle East and a plummet in the numbers originating from the U.S. and Europe.

In a world where economic parity is heavily influenced by gender and colour, this fee continues to be a major impediment for many and is especially intensified if one is a woman of colour. Exceptions made for protected persons aside, and though levied regardless of the country of origin, it favours those with economic stature, which in today’s world continues to be withheld from women and people of colour, thereby contributing to inequities in education and employment opportunities.

After proving one’s worth as an upstanding permanent resident, if financial means allow, then the next step toward active civic engagement is in the form of an application for citizenship (bumped to $530 from $100 in 2015) which, once again, could be loaded with added costs.

In total, the price paid to acquire Canadian citizenship quickly escalates, approximately amounting to between $3,000 and $4,000 (or more) and may include translation fees; lawyer’s fees that could be as steep as $400 for a consultation; medical exams and diagnostic testing, which aren’t covered by provincial health care plans; official language testing by a third party; miscellaneous costs such as citizenship certificates; permanent resident card renewal; photographs, conveyance and mailing. And this is without factoring the expenses associated with holding the status as an international student or worker (before applying for permanent residency) within Canada.

In 2017, Canada should have received more than $78-million from 159,262 economic immigrants, solely based on the right of permanent residence fee, many of whom pay this amount even before arriving to Canada. Once here, if these individuals choose to pursue citizenship, then once again it translates into millions of dollars wending their way to government coffers.

There is privilege attached to becoming a Canadian citizen. But it isn’t something that is easily afforded for many. Of the total cost of the arduous, emotional and financially stressful path to citizenship, approximately 15 per cent to 20 per cent is directed toward buying the permanent residence and citizenship rights – to be able to belong, to be able to vote, and most importantly, to be able to call oneself Canadian. The fact remains that, today, the current immigration system, consciously or unconsciously, promotes gender and economic disparity globally. In a world where immigration is more than just a means to move from one country to another, it is time to recognize what this has evolved into – a booming business that only profits certain countries.

Source: On Canada Day, let’s reconsider the high cost of citizenship

UK accused of profiteering on Syrians’ child citizenship fees

Not quite a weekly event, yet another example of hard to justify UK citizenship and immigration policies and practices (when Canada raised its adult fees in 2014-15, it maintained the low fee for children):

The UK government could profit by more than £5m by charging children who have fled war-torn Syria to apply for British citizenship, according to research.

The revelation, based on the Home Office’s own data, has sparked accusations that the government is profiteering from vulnerable children and making a windfall profit by driving vulnerable families into debt.

Campaigners point out that the government will profit whether the Syrian children’s applications are successful or not: if they are refused, applicants are not refunded. If children reapply for citizenship, the fee must be paid again.

Valerie Peay, the director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, has called on the next prime minister to end the “practice of profiteering from vulnerable children”.

The UK charges 10 times more than any other European country for child citizenship fees, at £1,012 per child, plus £19.20 to provide biometric information. They are charged an extra £80 if they turn 18 during the application process. The cost of processing the application is £372.

The charges have increased 51% in the last five years, during the period when Theresa May’s Home Office instigated a “hostile environment” policy to reduce immigration numbers.

Source: UK accused of profiteering on Syrians’ child citizenship fees

UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

High fees are bad enough but good to see the Home Office called out over profiteering. At least in Canada, the fees were only increased for adults (quintupled), not for children:

The Home Office should consider scrapping controversial immigration fees charged to children from families who can’t afford it and refund profits made from failed citizenship applications, according to an official watchdog.

The call came as it emerged on Thursday that the Home Office is making a profit of £2m a month from charging children for citizenship, with about 40,000 estimated to be affected in the past year.

A report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the government should publish information on the negative social and equality impact of the Home Office’s fees policy, which is blamed for driving thousands of parents into overwork, debt and even skipping meals to save for the costs.

While welcoming David Bolt’s call for a full review of the process governing the waivers applied to some applications and for greater transparency around the decision-making process, charities pressed for an end to Home Office profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.

The child citizenship charges were described as the Home Office’s new Windrush scandal in a letter to the Guardian signed by a range of charities including Coram, the Runnymede Trust, a number of headteachers and the community organising group Citizens UK.

The Home Office made £22m in 10 months by charging children who meet the strict eligibility citizenship criteria for processing documents, it was revealed by freedom of information requests from Citizens UK.

The cost of a citizenship application for a child is £1,012, while the cost of processing is just £372, meaning the Home Office makes an estimated £640 profit from each child application it receives.

Most of Bolt’s recommendations concerned the need to explain the calculations behind dramatic increases in Home Office fees, while other proposals focused on the effects on vulnerable individuals, including children.

The Home Office rejected two of Bolt’s recommendations. In response Bolt said he couldn’t understand why it was unable to launch a public consultation on charging for borders, immigration and citizenship system services in time to inform this year’s government spending review.

But Bolt said he was more concerned about the Home Office’s rejection of his call for a breakdown of how it calculated the part of the fee relating to how a successful applicant would benefit economically from British citizenship.

He added: “I am disappointed that the Home Office does not recognise this is a question of basic fairness, which should not have to wait on discussions with the Treasury about the department’s future funding.”

Fees for immigration and nationality applications have steadily risen since 2010 under the “hostile environment” policy, including in a round of changes last April. Cases have included a family who had to choose between paying for accommodation or saving money for Home Office fees. Another family, who have a disabled daughter, were last year still paying back the £7,000 they borrowed to pay the charges and said they feared losing their home.

Bolt’s call for a full review of how the process applies fee waivers for some poorer children, was “partially accepted” by the Home Office, which said it was in discussions about the issue.

A spokesperson said: “To reduce the burden on UK taxpayers, fee levels take into account the wider costs involved in running our border, immigration and citizenship system, so that those who directly benefit from it contribute to its funding. The home secretary has committed to keeping fees under review.

“However, we recognise that we have a duty to support the vulnerable. That is why we have fee waivers in place for those who need it most, including children and young people who have spent a significant amount of their life in the UK.”

The Home Office said it expected the 2019 spending review to influence its approach on fees, but added that it would “prioritise a system which is fair and reduces the burden on UK taxpayers”.

Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said urgent action was needed to ensure people were not denied basic rights just because they can’t afford exorbitant fees.

“We see clients every day who are pushed into destitution while the Home Office makes up to 2000% profits on some applications,” she added.

“The impact on children who are unable to apply for citizenship because of the fees is particularly disturbing. The Home Office should not be profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.”

Source: UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

Swiss citizenship fees vary widely across country: report

Most aspects of citizenship procedures are administered at the cantonal level with considerable variation between cantons:
Swiss citizenship doesn’t come cheap. While the cost of filing an application with federal authorities is relatively low (100 Swiss francs for an adult, or 150 francs for a couple), cantonal and communal authorities also charge non-refundable administrative fees which can seriously mount up.

Those administrative fees can vary depend on factors including age, place of birth, and marital status, but also differ significantly depending on place of residence as a new study carried out by Swiss weekly Le Matin Dimanche shows.

This is despite attempts to bring these administrative costs in line across the country back in 2006.

The study reveals that administrative costs can range from 500–1,600 francs in the canton of Jura to 1,800–3,000 francs in Fribourg, depending on which commune you live in.

Costs in other cantons include 550 to 800 francs in canton Vaud, 1,000 francs in Valais and a fixed rate of 1,250 francs for adults over 25 in Geneva.

For the canton of Zurich, the cost is listed on the cantonal homepage as 1,200 francs for foreign-born adults aged over 25. However, the canton also notes there are additional cantonal costs to be factored in. According to Le Matin Dimanche, the fees in Zurich total 1,700 francs.

Contacted by Le Matin Dimanche, authorities in Fribourg said there was no political motivation behind the high administrative costs associated with citizenship in that canton. A spokesperson said costs of individual applications were calculated based on actual costs incurred.

The office of Swiss price watchdog, Stefan Meierhans, is now looking into the matter.

Source: Swiss citizenship fees vary widely across country: report