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Revised UK childhood good character test should be scrapped

Campaigners say the government’s revised guidance on how the good character test is applied to children does not go far enough and still does not protect the rights of young people who have grown up in the UK and wish to naturalise.

Good character requirement

The good character requirement applies to children aged 10 and over, as this is the age of criminal responsibility. The review of the policy comes after a report by the independent chief inspector of UK borders and UK immigration.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Guardian in September 2018 found that as many as 400 children had been denied citizenship after failing the test since it was introduced in 2006. Many of these cases involved young people who had been born in the UK but had their applications turned down for convictions and cautions for minor offences.

The BBC reported the case of a woman in her 20s who was born in the UK and who holds down a full-time job but was refused British citizenship because of a series of shoplifting offences committed as a teenager. The report also highlighted cases of applications being declined because of petty thefts and cautions resulting from fights at school.

Critics have long held that the process fails to protect the best interests of the child which should be the primary consideration in such applications. In response, the government has updated its guidance to caseworkers to include that “the child’s age and particular circumstances and any mitigating factors such as their ability to understand the consequences of their actions” should be considered.

Last year, groups including the Runnymede Trust and Amnesty International launched a campaign to scrap the test altogether in the case of child applications. The campaigners suggest it remains unjust to treat children by the same standards as adults and have again called for the policy to be scrapped for those aged under 18.

Campaigners also claim that the policy disproportionately discriminates against children from BME families. The Runnymede Trust posted the following tweet in response to the government announcement of the new guidance:

“Children born or brought up in this country & entitled to British citizenship are being stripped of their citizenship because of inhumane ‘good character’ tests. Runnymede Trust alongside @prcbc @amnestyuk are calling for this test to be scrapped.”