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Refusing Citizenship

Between 2002 and 2016, the percentage of applications for citizenship which have been refused has fluctuated between 3% and 10%, averaging 6% and rising again to 10% in 2016.  Within this cohort of applications refused, since the mid 2000s the number of people being refused naturalised citizenship on the grounds of ‘bad character’ has been gradually increasing so that, after a small dip in 2014, in 2015 43%, and in 2016 44%, of people who were refused British citizenship were denied on this basis it (see our short data video). It is consequently becoming the principle reason why citizenship is denied in Britain.

Some Facts and Figures on Refusals of Naturalised Citizenship

The good character requirement for citizenship was revised in 2009 as part of broader immigration-citizenship reforms brought in under Gordon Brown (Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009).

The Brown Government’s ‘Path to Citizenship’ strengthened a notion in development for some time that citizenship was something to be ‘earned’.  The 2009 enhancement centred around a staged process that would involve demonstration of contribution to social and economic life in a number of ways as well as proving a certain degree of assimilation. Sufficient knowledge of life in the UK and the English language, requirements passed in 2002 would need to be demonstrated alongside exemplifying that one was of reputable ‘character’, a requirement that encompassed multiple considerations including previous criminal convictions and suspected criminality but also civil society contributions such as paying taxes and civic engagement. Though the character requirements have long been part of legal provisions for citizenship, policy changes brought in at this time introduced a stricter test.

Though there is no official legal definition of what constitutes ‘bad character’, the 2013 Home Office policy guidance indicated that it incorporated ‘not abiding by or respecting the law’, being ‘associated with war crimes’, not having one’s ‘financial affairs in appropriate order’, being involved in ‘notorious activities’ that ‘cast serious doubt on standing in the local community’, being dishonest with the UK Government, or having previously been deprived of citizenship.

‘Assisting in the evasion of immigration control’ and contravening immigration regulations were added to this list. Currently behaviours such as divorce, promiscuity, drinking or gambling, eccentricity (including beliefs), and unemployment or working habits should not normally constitute grounds for refusal, but scale and persistence of such activities are considered potential grounds, particularly if it is a case likely to attract public or media attention.  Parenting, debt, bankruptcy factor too.

The guidance further stipulates that a decision maker can still refuse citizenship if they have further doubts outside of this list and there is some flexibility in its application and interpretation. In December 2014 the Home Office tightened up the criteria and included additional criteria to the list of undesirable behaviours that would constitute ‘not of good character’. These included illegal entry to the UK, assisting illegal migration, and a lack of compliancy with immigration regulations, including working without permission.


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