Cuts in Britain Could Cause a Covid Data Drought

Unfortunately, many governments are short sighted.

Canada did the same when it disbanded the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) the year before the pandemic, many provinces are no longer carrying out regular testing and reducing the frequency of reporting etc.

Interesting example of South Africa and how it is able to maintain monitoring at a reasonable cost:

The British government on Friday shut down or scaled back a number of its Covid surveillance programs, curtailing the collection of data that the United States and many other countries had come to rely on to understand the threat posed by emerging variants and the effectiveness of vaccines. Denmark, too, renowned for insights from its comprehensive tests, has drastically cut back on its virus tracking efforts in recent months.

As more countries loosen their policies toward living with Covid rather than snuffing it out, health experts worry that monitoring systems will become weaker, making it more difficult to predict new surges and to make sense of emerging variants.

“Things are going to get harder now,” Samuel Scarpino, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute, said. “And right as things get hard, we’re dialing back the data systems.”

Since the Alpha variant emerged in the fall of 2020, Britain has served as a bellwether, tracking that variant as well as Delta and Omicron before they arrived in the United States. After a slow start, American genomic surveillance efforts have steadily improved with a modest increase in funding.

“This might actually put the U.S. in more of a leadership position,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

At the start of the pandemic, Britain was especially well prepared to set up a world-class virus tracking program. The country was already home to many experts on virus evolution, it had large labs ready to sequence viral genes, and it could link that sequencing to electronic records from its National Health Service.

In March 2020, British researchers created a consortium to sequence as many viral genomes as they could lay hands on. Some samples came from tests that people took when they felt ill, others came from hospitals, and still others came from national surveys.

That last category was especially important, experts said. By testing hundreds of thousands of people at random each month, the researchers could detect new variants and outbreaks among people who didn’t even know they were sick, rather than waiting for tests to come from clinics or hospitals.

“The community testing has been the most rapid indicator of changes to the epidemic, and it’s also been the most rapid indicator of the appearance of new variants,” said Christophe Fraser, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. “It’s really the key tool.”

By late 2020, Britain was performing genomic sequencing on thousands of virus samples a week from surveys and tests, supplying online databases with more than half of the world’s coronavirus genomes. That December, this data allowed researchers to identify Alpha, the first coronavirus variant, in an outbreak in southeastern England.

A few other countries stood out for their efforts to track the virus’s evolution. Denmark set up an ambitious system for sequencing most of its positive coronavirus tests. Israel combined viral tracking with aggressive vaccination, quickly producing evidence last summer that the vaccines were becoming less effective — data that other countries leaned on in their decision to approve boosters.

But Britain remained the exemplar in not only sequencing viral genomes, but combining that information with medical records and epidemiology to make sense of the variants.

“The U.K. really set itself up to give information to the whole world,” said Jeffrey Barrett, the former director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Britain.

Even in the past few weeks, Britain’s surveillance systems were giving the world crucial information about the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. British researchers established that the variant does not pose a greater risk of hospitalization than other forms of Omicron but is more transmissible.

On Friday, two of the country’s routine virus surveys were shut down and a third was scaled back, baffling Dr. Fraser and many other researchers, particularly when those surveys now show that Britain’s Covid infection rates are estimated to have reached a record high: one in 13 people. The government also stopped paying for free tests, and either canceled or paused contact-tracing apps and sewage sampling programs.

“I don’t understand what the strategy is, to put together these very large instruments and then dismantle them,” Dr. Fraser said.

The cuts have come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Britain to “learn to live with this virus.” When the government released its plans in February, it pointed to the success of the country’s vaccination program and the high costs of various virus programs. Although it would be scaling back surveillance, it said, “the government will continue to monitor cases, in hospital settings in particular, including using genomic sequencing, which will allow some insights into the evolution of the virus.”

It’s true that life with Covid is different now than it was back in the spring of 2020. Vaccines drastically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death — at least in countries that have vaccinated enough people. Antiviral pills and other treatments can further blunt Covid’s devastation, although they’re still in short supply in much of the world.

Supplying free tests and running large-scale surveys is expensive, Dr. Barrett acknowledged, and after two years, it made sense that countries would look for ways to curb spending. “I do understand it’s a tricky position for governments,” he said.

But he expressed worry that cutting back too far on genomic surveillance would leave Britain unprepared for a new variant. “You don’t want to be blind on that,” he said

With a reduction in testing, Steven Paterson, a geneticist at the University of Liverpool, pointed out that Britain will have fewer viruses to sequence. He estimated the sequencing output could drop by 80 percent.

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to lead very much to a degradation of the insight that we can have, either into the numbers of infections, or our ability to spot new variants as they come through,” Dr. Paterson said.

Experts warned that it will be difficult to restart surveillance programs of the coronavirus, known formally as SARS-CoV-2, when a new variant emerges.

“If there’s one thing we know about SARS-CoV-2, it’s that it always surprises us,” said Paul Elliott, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and a lead investigator on one of the community surveys being cut. “Things can change really, really quickly.”

Other countries are also applying a live-with-Covid philosophy to their surveillance. Denmark’s testing rate has dropped nearly 90 percent from its January peak. The Danish government announced on March 10 that tests would be required only for certain medical reasons, such as pregnancy.

Astrid Iversen, an Oxford virologist who has consulted for the Danish government, expressed worry that the country was trying to convince itself the pandemic was over. “The virus hasn’t gotten the email,” she said.

With the drop in testing, she said, the daily case count in Denmark doesn’t reflect the true state of the pandemic as well as before. But the country is ramping up widespread testing of wastewater, which might work well enough to monitor new variants. If the wastewater revealed an alarming spike, the country could start its testing again.

“I feel confident that Denmark will be able to scale up,” she said.

Israel has also seen a drastic drop in testing, but Ran Balicer, the director of the Clalit Research Institute, said the country’s health care systems will continue to track variants and monitor the effectiveness of vaccines. “For us, living with Covid does not mean ignoring Covid,” he said.

While Britain and Denmark have been cutting back on surveillance, one country offers a model of robust-yet-affordable virus monitoring: South Africa.

South Africa rose to prominence in November, when researchers there first discovered Omicron. The feat was all the more impressive given that the country sequences only a few hundred virus genomes a week.

Tulio de Oliveira, the director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation, credited the design of the survey for its success. He and his colleagues randomly pick out test results from every province across the country to sequence. That method ensures that a bias in their survey doesn’t lead them to miss something important.

It also means that they run much leaner operations than those of richer countries. Since its start in early 2020, the survey has cost just $2.1 million. “It’s much more sustainable,” Dr. de Oliveira said.

In contrast, many countries in Africa and Asia have yet to start any substantial sequencing. “We are blind to many parts of the world,” said Elodie Ghedin, a viral genomics expert at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The United States has traveled a course of its own. In early 2021, when the Alpha variant swept across the country, American researchers were sequencing only a tiny fraction of positive Covid tests. “We were far behind Britain,” Dr. Ghedin said.

Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped state and local public health departments start doing their own sequencing of virus genomes. While countries like Britain and Denmark pull back on surveillance, the United States is still ramping up its efforts. Last month, the C.D.C. announced a $185 million initiative to support sequencing centers at universities.

Still, budget fights in Washington are bringing uncertainty to the country’s long-term surveillance. And the United States faces obstacles that other wealthy countries don’t.

Without a national health care system, the country cannot link each virus sample with a person’s medical records. And the United States has not set up a regularly updated national survey of the sort that has served the United Kingdom and South Africa so well.

“All scientists would love it if we had something like that,” Dr. Ghedin said. “But we have to work with the confines of our system.”

Source: Cuts in Britain Could Cause a Covid Data Drought

UK axes ‘golden visa’ scheme after fraud and Russia concerns

Overdue, and one of the few defensible immigration measures by the UK government:

The “golden visa” system that allows wealthy foreign investors a fast track to live in the UK has been axed amid concern about applicants acquiring their wealth illegally and the growing strain on diplomatic relations with Russia.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, announced that the scheme would end with immediate effect to help to stop “corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities”.

Launched in 2008, the “tier 1 investor visa” programme allowed people with at least £2m in investment funds and a UK bank account to apply for residency rights, along with their family. The speed with which applicants were allowed to get indefinite leave to remain was hastened by how much money they planned to invest in the UK: £2m took five years, while £10m shortened the wait to just two.

Source: UK axes ‘golden visa’ scheme after fraud and Russia concerns

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

Court lets Priti Patel keep charging children £1012 for citizenship

Of note, law should to be changed from this “profiteering:”

The Home Office will continue to make a £640 profit on each child charged for British citizenship, as of a court ruling on 2 February.

The Supreme Court ended the four-year long fight against fees charged for children, some of whom were born in the UK, to become British citizens. Even if they were born in the UK, some children whose parents have a certain immigration status are not automatically British citizens – their families have to apply for citizenship for them.

While the court recognised that the £1,012 charged for each child was far above the administration cost of registering them as British citizens (£372) it concluded that parliament had allowed the government to set a fee above the ability of applicants to pay – which means it’s up to MPs or peers to change it.

The previous home secretary, Sajid Javid, described the fee as “a huge amount of money for a child to pay”, but failed to change it while in office.

Members of the House of Lords last week attempted to amend the Nationality and Borders Bill to reduce the fee to £372, covering the administrative costs, and to scrap it for children in care.

Child O, who was at the centre of the case, was born in the UK and has never left the country but their family was unable to pay the fee when applying for citizenship when Child O was ten. The now 14-year-old said they felt “very let down and alone”.

Campaigners say excluding these children and young people from British citizenship causes them to feel alienated, excluded and isolated in their home country, and are calling for the fee to be lowered or scrapped entirely for children in care or who are unable to afford it.

Their case was taken up by Amnesty International UK, and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC).

“This fee deprives thousands of children of their citizenship rights, yet the Home Office has chosen to keep overcharging, despite the alienation and exclusion this is causing,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.

Sam Genen, the lawyer who represented Amnesty in the case, said: “It is disappointing that the Supreme Court granted permission to hear arguments [on international law] but chose not to decide them.”

He added that the current composition and judgments by the court “show a reductive approach to the rights of the vulnerable. There is a general sense that the court seems less interested [in] individual rights and expertise.”

Amnesty and PRCBC had appealed a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which followed a ruling by the High Court in 2020 that the fee was excluding children from their citizenship rights.

Both lower courts found the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had not given consideration to the best interests of children when setting the fee.

While the Home Secretary continues to have discretion in setting the citizenship fee for vulnerable children, parliament could choose to change that – all eyes are now on whether the Nationality and Borders Bill could be amended to reduce or remove the fee for children in care or who cannot afford to pay.

The Supreme Court ruling paradoxically highlighted the importance of British citizenship, noting: “It can contribute to one’s sense of identity and belonging, assisting people, and not least young people in their sensitive teenage years, to feel part of the wider community. It allows a person to participate in the political life of the local community and the country at large.”

Source: Court lets Priti Patel keep charging children £1012 for citizenship

Chakrabarti and Woolley: The UK nationality bill makes it clear: some British citizens are more equal than others

More opposition to the proposed changes:

As longstanding human rights campaigners, we are both well acquainted with the harsh realities of inequality and injustice in modern Britain. But the government’s nationality and borders bill– which will be in the committee stage at the House of Lords for the next two weeks – feels like a very personal insult. This is because it lays bare an uncomfortable and usually unspoken truth: that people like us, born in Britain but with foreign-born parents, are second-class citizens.

We are talking about the bill’s provision to strengthen the government’s ability to deprive people of citizenship – a profound exercise of state power. Currently, the home secretary has the power to do this if they determine it is “conducive to the public good” and if they believe the person being deprived is eligible for the citizenship of another country. This last condition has been estimated to be applicable to several million people.

Hundreds of formerly British citizens, especially from ethnic minorities, have already been stripped of their citizenship in the past 15 years. But Boris Johnson’s government wants to go even further. Clause 9 of this generally poisonous bill would give ministers the ability to remove our British citizenship without even telling us. This would severely affect the right of appeal; contesting government decisions needs to be done in a timely and effective way, but how would this be possible if you don’t know that the decision has been made? It seems the government is saying, if we take your citizenship, you’ve lost it. Period.

This is why we have come together, as members of the House of Lords, to oppose the government’s plans and will be supporting an amendment removing clause 9 in committee stage, along with other amendments to restrict already draconian citizenship removal powers.

Why does clause 9 feel so personal? Because it seems to say that no matter that this is the only country we’ve ever lived in; no matter that our life’s work has been to make our nation fairer; no matter that we are both peers of the realm because of this work; no matter that our ancestors gave their lives in two world wars: our citizenship is precarious and conditional in a way that isn’t the case for many others. It can be stripped away by the government of the day.

For those pushing through this bill, the history of Commonwealth migration of British citizens to the UK counts for nothing. Simon’s mother arrived in the late 1950s to give her best years to the recently formed NHS. Soon afterwards, the then health minister Enoch Powell (before he became an overt racist) flew to Barbados to call on British overseas citizens to come to the UK and support the NHS: thousands responded to that call. In that same era, Shami’s parents came from Kolkata to London. Years of race discrimination and even physical attacks never deterred them.

In a House of Lords debate on the bill this month, peers spoke about the hundreds of thousands from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia who fought for Britain in two world wars, believing they were part of a wider family. They believed they had earned the right for their children and grandchildren to be treated as equals. It seems they were wrong.

And this is not just an argument about morality: because when you have a second class, precarious version of citizenship it becomes open to political interpretation – as we have tragically seen in recent years. Everyone now accepts that the Windrush scandal – which saw legitimate British citizens denied healthcare and benefits, or hounded out of their country and left to die impoverished in places they had left as toddlers – is a stain on this country. So why are hundreds of British citizens still being stripped of their citizenship? Just recently a British-born man with Bangladeshi heritage had his citizenship removed and spent four years challenging the decision. He is now on his way back to the UK after winning his appeal.

What the Windrush scandal and other cases show is that governments make a lot of mistakes. The idea that a “good British citizen” – particularly those from the most affected groups of Black and Asian people – can be safe and secure is frankly fanciful. Rather than continuing to erode fundamental rights, the government should be trying to strengthen security and belonging for everyone. That also goes for other parts of the bill, which trash even the 1951 refugee convention by treating the most desperate, who escape persecution by clandestine means, as second-class asylum seekers.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. When the Conservative Lord Moylan spoke passionately about witnessing citizenship ceremonies as wonderful celebrations of belonging, he said: “My conception of British nationality is much more profound than a mere travel document. It is – or should be – a permanent and reciprocal bond of loyalty on the one hand and protection on the other … we should be building up and strengthening the bond between citizen and nation, whereas it seems to me that this provision goes only to dissolve it further.”

He is right, of course. Millions of people in this country, whose passport photos show faces that are not white, are vulnerable to structural racism – including when turbo-charged by broad powers of citizenship deprivation. The thought of citizenship being stripped without notice will only create fear and alienation, and do nothing to bring the people of this nation closer together.

  • Shami Chakrabarti was shadow attorney general for England and Wales from 2016 to 2020, and was director of Liberty from 2003 to 2016. Simon Woolley is the director of Operation Black Vote. He was chair of the No 10 race disparity unit until July 2020

Source: The nationality bill makes it clear: some British citizens are more equal than others

Middle-class Britons more likely to be biased about Islam, finds survey

Interesting, given that in most countries, the greater the education and income, the lower the level of prejudice and bias:

The middle and upper classes are more likely to hold prejudiced views about Islam than working-class groups, according to a survey from the University of Birmingham.

In one of the most detailed surveys conducted on Islamophobia and other forms of racism in modern Britain, data showed 23.2% of people from upper and lower middle-class social groups harbour prejudiced views about Islamic beliefs compared with 18.4% of people questioned from working-class groups.

The survey, carried out in conjunction with YouGov, found the British public is almost three times more likely to hold prejudiced views of Islam than they are of other religions, with 21.1% of British people wrongly believing Islam teaches its followers that the Qur’an must be read “totally literally”.

“It’s the people from an upper and middle class background, who presumably are university educated, who feel more confident in their judgments but [are] also more likely to make an incorrect judgment,” said Dr Stephen Jones, the report’s lead author. “It’s almost like because they’re more educated, they’re also more miseducated, because that’s the way Islam is presented in our society.”

The findings, presented in a report entitled The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain, were based on interviews with a sample of 1,667 people between 20 and 21 July 2021.

The survey found more than one in four people, and nearly half of Conservative and Leave voters, hold conspiratorial views about Sharia “no-go areas”, while Muslims are the UK’s second “least liked” group, after Gypsy and Irish Travellers, with 25.9% of the British public feeling negatively towards Muslims.

The survey also found 18.1% of people support prohibiting all Muslim migration to the UK, a rate 4-6% higher than the same view for other ethnic and religious groups.

The report suggested a lack of public censure for Islamophobia, citing the example of Conservative MP Nadine Dorries supportively tweeting remarks made by anti-Islam activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson), was one reason why prejudice was so widespread.

“There’s a lack of criticism that follows Islamophobia, and that seems to correspond to the way in which Islamophobia is dealt with in public life,” said Jones. “The survey shows quite clearly it’s a very widespread prejudice. But it’s just not given the same kind of seriousness as other forms of prejudice.

“People who work in public office, whether MPs or councillors, who have got away with saying things about Muslims that they simply would not get away with if they were talking about other kinds of minority. That’s not to say those other issues don’t need to be taken seriously as well, it’s simply to say that this particular form of prejudice doesn’t get due recognition.”

Researchers recommended the government and other public figures should publicly acknowledge the lack of criticism of Islamophobia, and how it stands out compared with other forms of racism and prejudice. The report also suggested civil society organisations and equality bodies should recognise how systemic miseducation about Islam is common in British society and is a key element of Islamophobia.

Jones said: “No one is calling for laws regulating criticism of religion, but we have to recognise that the British public has been systematically miseducated about Islamic tradition and take steps to remedy this.”

Source: Middle-class Britons more likely to be biased about Islam, finds survey

British man made stateless by Home Office has citizenship reinstated

Of note:

A British man who was stripped of his citizenship by the Home Office for almost five years has described the “devastating” impact of the decision as the government pursues fresh powers to remove a person’s citizenship without warning.

The 40-year-old, who was born in London, returns to the UK this week after being stranded in Bangladesh since 2017 when the Home Office served a deprivation of citizenship order on him shortly after he flew to the country for the birth of his second daughter.

E3, as he is referred to in court documents, was working in the UK when he travelled to Bangladesh but not earning enough to sponsor his wife to join him and has since been stateless and destitute with his wife and three daughters.

According to the Home Office’s deprivation order, the Briton was “an Islamist extremist who had previously sought to travel abroad to participate in terrorism-related activity” and that he posed a threat to national security.

Although the UK government has reinstated his citizenship, his lawyers say they have received no explanation or any specific details to support the claims. E3 has never been charged with any criminal offence in the UK or elsewhere.

E3 told the Observer: “The allegation against me is so vague that it even suggests that I only tried to travel to some unknown destination to take part in an unspecified activity related to terrorism.

“How on earth do you defend yourself against an allegation like that, especially when the government relies on secret evidence? The disclosure my solicitors received was almost entirely redacted so I have no idea what the government is referring to.

“Why was I not arrested and questioned? Why have I been punished in this way without ever being shown a single piece of evidence against me? The government should admit that they have made a mistake and own up to it.”

It comes as politicians consider controversial plans contained in the contentious nationality and borders bill, which is going through the House of Lords, to allow the Home Office to remove someone’s citizenship without the need to inform them.

Source: British man made stateless by Home Office has citizenship reinstated

How you can buy a British passport—the dangerous commodification of citizenship

Of note:

Last week, the UK Nationality and Borders Bill passed in the Commons. The Bill gave the home secretary Priti Patel the power to strip British people with dual nationality or born abroad of their citizenship without needing to warn them first. Three thousand miles away, in a conference centre in Dubai, a collection of lawyers, wealth managers, immigration experts and High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) were selling and shopping for visas and passports. The event hosted “the right advisers and government contacts” to help applicants “get ahead in life in countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Spain, Greece, Germany, Bulgaria,” including promising to hand-hold applicants through the UK’s investor visa process, where a £2m investment can be exchanged for long-term residency. Both events are representative of shifting currents in global citizenship. But who gets citizenship—and why? Who gets to keep it—and who doesn’t?

The commodification of citizenship began in the 1980s. When the Caribbean islands of St Kitts & Nevis attained independence from Britain, the economy was hindered by a colonial-era reliance on sugar exports. Selling citizenship represented a perfect economic opportunity. An existing resource with apparently unlimited supply, low overheads and limited human capital requirements, selling passports could deliver a direct injection of cash for the government. At $150,000 for a family of four, with no obligation to live or even visit the islands, the passports include access to tax-free income and visa-free travel to over 130 countries. For St Kitts and its customers alike—a diverse group of wealthy investors largely from developing countries from which travel is restricted—there seemed to be few downsides, besides potential displeasure from other countries.

At first, uptake was slow. But after a dramatic slashing of the EU import price for sugar in 2006, the Kittitian government enlisted the help of Henley & Partners, a London law firm, to give the programme a boost. Their influence was profound. In the following eight years, the percentage of St Kitts GDP derived from the citizenship-by-investment (or “CBI”) programme jumped from 1 to 25 per cent. Today, CBI is a booming international industry worth an estimated $3bn.

In short, St Kitts commodified citizenship, and Henley commercialised it. Now operated by around 100 countries around the world, CBI programmes offer a passport or residency permit in exchange for a one-time payment or a hefty real estate investment. Prices range from $130,000 for a single applicant (Vanuatu) to several millions (the UK) to schemes about which little public information is available (Switzerland, Austria). The innovation of CBI is in bypassing the linguistic, cultural or employment-related migration requirements usually tightly enforced by governments when the person involved isn’t incredibly rich. It has also spawned an entire industry. Search “citizenship by investment” on Google and a slew of adverts for agents, lawyers, due diligence firms and advisers appear, all hungry for their share of the application fee. There are even CBI influencers: Nomad Capitalist, a YouTube channel, garners millions of views each year for videos with titles like “12 Second Residence Permits with a Simple Bank Deposit.”

Source: How you can buy a British passport—the dangerous commodification of citizenship

UK tightens criteria for Afghans to enter despite ‘warm welcome’ pledge

Yet another example by far too many countries:

The Home Office has tightened the criteria allowing Afghans to enter the UK despite promises from Boris Johnson to give a “warm welcome” to those who assisted British forces or worked with the government.

The department announced changes to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) which narrows the criteria from that used during the Operation Pitting evacuation in August 2021.

After the UK’s chaotic exit from Kabul in August, the prime minister launched “operation warm welcome” to ensure the safety of staff in fear for their lives from the Taliban.

“I am determined that we welcome them with open arms and that my government puts in place the support they need to rebuild their lives,” Johnson said at the time. “We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves.”

Source: UK tightens criteria for Afghans to enter despite ‘warm welcome’ pledge

British Labour MP: Children are being priced out of British citizenship – it’s unjust and must change

All UK citizenship fees are comparatively more expensive that other EU countries and Australia, Canada and the USA. But the fees for children are particularly high. The previous Conservative government, while increasing adult fees from $200 to $630 (including the right of citizenship), it left fees at $200 for children:

In the 2019 Conservative leadership election, Boris Johnson claimed: “I want everybody who comes here and makes their lives here to be and to feel British”. But government policy is effectively telling hundreds of thousands of children the exact opposite.

The children in question, born here to parents with leave to remain, like me, or born abroad but resident here for most of their lives, like our Prime Minister, are growing up in limbo in the country they call home instead of enjoying their full citizenship rights.

There are between 85,000 to 215,000 children with a legal entitlement to British citizenship who have ended up undocumented due to the extortionate registration fee. Through no fault of their own, they will go on to experience real difficulties in later life as a result, subjected to the same hostile environment measures that caused so much suffering to members of the Windrush generation. Many young people may not even realise they do not have citizenship until they try to travel, get a job, rent a home or are suddenly asked to pay international fees for their university education.

If the £35 fee introduced in 1983 had risen in line with inflation, it would be £120 today. Instead, it is now £1,012 and one of the highest such fees in Europe, doubling in the last decade alone. We are charging British children ten times more to claim their citizenship rights than their counterparts in Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

Of the current fee, the Home Office reports that £372 accounts for administrative costs and freely admits that the remaining £640 is pure profit. Research by Citizens UK shows that between 2017 and 2020 alone, the government has made a £102,749,216 profit from these child citizenship fees.

When I challenged the Prime Minister on this practice earlier in the year at PMQs, the Prime Minister said there were “costs that must be borne by the taxpayer” and that citizenship was “a prize”. The courts have consistently disagreed with the Prime Minister’s stance, with the Court of Appeal recently upholding the High Court’s ruling that this fee was unlawful and ordering the Home Office to reconsider it.

On questions of citizenship, it’s clear that the government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. For these children, British citizenship is a legal entitlement, not a prize or an investment. Instead of endlessly appealing, they should accept it’s wrong to set fees so high that it blocks families from applying.

Most of the children priced out of citizenship come from households facing higher levels of hardship and poverty. Many are from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds. Some come from families slapped with the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition, preventing them from accessing basic services.

The government continues to justify these fees on the basis of fiscal responsibility but it’s absurd that they believe an effective levy on poorer households is a sustainable way of financing their immigration system. Above all, there’s nothing responsible about creating a situation where children are deprived of their rights for want of money.

It’s also a scandal that many looked after children are emerging from our care system without British citizenship. These children have been entrusted to the care of the state. The state has a responsibility to get the best outcomes for them.

I regularly speak to young people in my constituency who face feelings of worry, alienation and social exclusion as a result of being denied citizenship. The harm of being denied your citizenship rights in the only country you truly know cannot be overstated. It’s not just about the societal barriers you face, it’s about the psychological impact of being constantly treated as a second-class citizen.

You can’t put a price on belonging. Yet that’s exactly what this government continues to do. With the return of the nationality and borders bill, we have a chance to change this. My amendment to the legislation would cut the registration fee down to cost price, scrap it completely for looked after children and compel the government to produce a report on the impact that fees have on children’s right to citizenship.

These children are as British as anyone else. It is immoral and unjust that they continue to be blocked from citizenship and subjected to humiliating treatment as a result. If you grow up in the UK, British citizenship should be your right – not a privilege you pay the government large sums of money to bestow.

Source: Children are being priced out of British citizenship – it’s unjust and must change