Coverage of the Windrush cases and those of long-resident Commonwealth citizens has shone a light on the number of barriers facing individuals who came to this country as children and are entitled to remain in the UK but struggle to regularise their status.
This problem extends to other generations including thousands of undocumented children and young people living in legal limbo in this country. We are writing to you to highlight the specific problems facing young people who came to the UK as young children or were born here, and have grown up in the UK.
An estimated 120,000 undocumented children and young people live in the UK, having been born here or brought as young children. They have been educated here and think of themselves as British, but do not have paperwork to support their status. Many have grown up in the UK without realising that immigration is even an issue, their lack of regular status only becoming evident when they wish to work or access further or higher education. At the very moment when they are able to begin giving back to society they are blocked from being part of it.
Administrative measures introduced since 2012 have derailed and disrupted many young lives.
These include increasingly complicated application processes for immigration applications, steep increases to fees for immigration applications, and the toughening of the immigration rules making it harder and more onerous to regularise status based on long residence and the right to a private and family life. Importantly during this time legal aid has been removed for all non-asylum immigration cases, including for cases involving separated and unaccompanied migrant children. This means that children and young people who are on their own no longer have access to free legal advice about their options, help to gather evidence and make representations on their behalf to the Home Office about their claim for leave to remain or citizenship.
For example, each application for limited leave based on long residence costs £1,033 per person. This figure does not include the proposed £1,000 NHS charge that migrants will be asked to pay from later this year, while – if successful – permission to stay is granted only for a period of 2½ years. Each young person subject to these fees will now have to make five applications, wait ten years and pay over £10,000 before they can obtain settled status. This figure does not include the cost of paying for legal advice which can also run to thousands of pounds. Children who are already British citizens must pay £1,012 simply to be recognised as such. These measures are leaving thousands of young people trapped in a precarious legal position, some facing homelessness, destitution, an inability to study or work, and possible exploitation as they make the transition to adulthood.
The RMCC welcomed the Home Secretary’s commitments to resolving all Windrush cases within two weeks, setting up a special unit and waiving all fees for documentation. However, more must be done to address the needs of all the long-settled people in this country including undocumented children. We recommend that the development of a more efficient immigration system includes a new, shorter and more accessible route to permanent status for those who have grown up here.
While greater immigration reform may take time, the RMCC is urging the government to introduce the following shorter-term changes:
- Waive the fee for, or remove the profit-making element of children’s citizenship applications: children who apply for registration as a British citizen by entitlement are simply registering a right that they have already been given by Parliament, but they still need to pay over £1,000 to do so, of which £640 (63%) represents profit to the Home Office. Urgent reform of these fees has been called for recently by the Mayor of London and the House of Lords Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement.
- Fee waivers should be available for all children in families and young people who cannot afford to pay the high fees, and for all children’s indefinite leave to remain and citizenship applications.
- We recommend that the government freeze the fees for leave to remain pending an independent review of the impact of high fees on young migrants. This review should take into account how the high fees can prevent young migrants from staying on the 10 year route to settlement.
- The government should amend its policy to apply the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition on leave granted to families with dependent children to make sure that no child is left homeless or destitute and growing up in extreme poverty as a result of Home Office policy.
- The government should ensure that all children in England and Wales can get free legal advice and representation for their immigration and citizenship cases, and urgently reinstate immigration legal aid for unaccompanied children and young people.
As the Home Secretary acknowledged, the Windrush scandal ‘is about individuals, people who have built their lives in the UK’. As Brexit negotiations continue, and we wait to understand fully the fate of EU children and families in the UK, it is more important than ever to ensure that children and young people who have grown up here are able to have secure status and build their futures in this country.
 N. Sigona and V. Hughes, No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK, University of Oxford, 2012