British Citizenship signifies more than immigration status. It entails a fundamental sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘integration’ into British Society, the significance of which should not be underestimated.
Citizenship and what it means to ‘be British’ has featured frequently in recent headlines in the wake of the ‘Windrush Scandal’. The plight of some individuals who arrived in post-war Britain prior to 1973 (who were granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK by virtue of the Immigration Act 1971) and have encountered increasing difficulties in respect of working, remaining in and returning to the UK, has been well documented. The Government has now acknowledged that ‘everyone considers people who came to the UK in the Windrush Generation to be British’, regardless of whether they have naturalised (and as such, have relaxed standard Citizenship application criteria and waived application fees in respect of those individuals).
Outside this special category there are a number of routes to Citizenship. Some individuals are deemed automatically to be British Citizens. Others acquire British Citizenship through residence, family and/or work in the UK. Naturalising or registering as British Citizens is the ultimate goal for many migrants (and their families) living and working in the UK but for others (particularly those who are required to relinquish another Citizenship once they Naturalise) it warrants careful prior consideration.
Historically, immigrants from outside the EU have been more likely to apply for British Citizenship whereas EU Nationals have tended to be content with permanent residence (which, on a practical level, affords the same rights in respect of work and residence in the UK, as Citizenship). Brexit has, however, bucked this trend somewhat and in 2017 there was a 149% increase in Citizenship applications submitted by EU Citizens.
Despite the Government maintaining that EU Nationals do not currently need to document their residence/permanent residence status and repeated assurances that the process of applying for the proposed new ‘settled status’ will be a ‘streamlined, low-cost, digital process’, it appears that a sizeable portion of EU Nationals are anxious about their UK immigration status (and how properly to evidence this). Indeed, who can blame them, particularly in light of the Windrush Scandal and recent revelations that elements of the ‘Brexit app’ (a key component of the low cost, simple, digital process) are incompatible with iphones?
Acquiring British Citizenship now is an obvious means of eliminating uncertainty and the concerns that many EU Nationals harbour regarding their future immigration status and rights. It is likely that we will continue to see significant numbers of Citizenship applications from EU Nationals prior to (and immediately following) the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.