COMMITTEE CAUTIONS OVER NEW CITIZENSHIP RULES
The Home Affairs Committee today sounded a note of caution about proposed changes to the routes to British citizenship. In a report on the
Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [HL] published ahead of second reading in the House of Commons, the Committee expresses concerns about the way the proposed new 'activity condition' and 'probationary period' are to be implemented.
Chair of the Committee Rt Hon Keith Vaz said:
The basic principle in the Bill that people who want to become British citizens should contribute to British society is obviously uncontroversial, and one that we support. However, I'm afraid we have concerns about how realistic and fair the Government's proposals will be in practice.
In particular, we are worried that the Government has not adequately defined what effectively amounts to semi-compulsory volunteering, as introduced in this Bill. The way in which individuals qualify for citizenship touches on important constitutional principles. We think the Government should allow Parliament and the public to consider what activities will count towards the activity condition, rather than simply allowing civil servants to devise a list on the back of an envelope.
There is also a risk that the way the activity condition and the probationary period are being constructed will create conditions that might penalise abused and vulnerable groupssuch as the victims of human trafficking, domestic violence or forced marriagerestricting their access to services or certain benefits for longer. We therefore urge the Government to make explicit exemptions for such vulnerable groups. As we have concluded in previous inquiries, the impact of restricting support for such groups as victims of trafficking or torture, or requiring them to jump additional hurdles simply adds to the abuse they have already suffered".
The Committee concludes that the principle of 'active citizenship'that those applying for British citizenship can speed up the process by engaging in community volunteeringis "essentially a fair one". However, it expresses reservations about the way the concept will be implemented. The Government has not set out which activities will count towards the requirement, which the Committee concludes is of "key importance". It recommends that the more informal but important activities that people organise and undertake themselves in their communities should be formally recognised and not stifled by red tape. The Committee also sees potential for a glut of poorly regulated volunteers struggling to fulfil the requirements and placing a burden on the voluntary sector who have to find meaningful activities for them.
Additionally the Committee questions whether the requirement for probationary citizens to have been in continuous employment for the duration of their probationary period is realistic in a climate where thousands are being made jobless. It recommends that the Government clarify what it means by the continuous employment requirement by setting out a maximum time period for which migrants can be between jobs.
The Committee also criticises the transfer of immigration-related judicial review to the unified tribunals system. Rt Hon Keith Vaz said:
We accept that immigrations appeals cases which are not highly significant or complex could be reviewed in the Upper Tribunal, rather than overburdening the higher courts, but we believe that this large 'burden' of immigration-related judicial review applications is due in no small part to historically poor initial decision-making by the Home Office, and the significant backlog of decisions in asylum cases. These failings on the part of the Home Office must not be compensated for by a lessening of appeal rights in those complex cases which do engage human rights issues or constitutional principles."