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What social workers need to know about immigration and citizenship for children in care

There are over 200,000 undocumented children in the UK, many of whom do not realise they are without the legal right to live here.

09/10/23

What social workers need to know about immigration and citizenship for children in care

In a joint presentation at the Social Work Show Manchester, solicitor Suzanne Mahoney, and social worker Maria Houlihan, both from Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), said that it is vital that social workers check whether a child has the right to be in the UK. For those children who do not, it is vital to develop an action plan, to establish their right to stay before they are 18.

They said that common reasons for thinking wrongly that children have immigration status include:
 the child sounds ‘local’
 the child and their family think the child is British
 the child was born here

A British birth certificate does not, on its own, mean a person is a British citizen. However it is a route to citizenship. Citizenship may be given to a child born in the UK, who has a parent with settled status. That route is also available to a child born here whose parent later becomes a British citizen or is given settled status.

They said that social workers need to be proactive and informed when supporting children and care leavers, and develop an action plan to establish permanent status and citizenship. Applying for a passport is an important first step. Maria Houlihan said, ‘it is good for any child in the care system to have a passport, even for things like school journeys.’

Also, ‘It is important to establish citizenship before reaching the age of 18, because at that point, if you don’t have it, you cannot work, you cannot rent, and anyone who is sentenced for committing crime is at additional risk of deportation,’ said Ms Houlihan.

She said that citizenship is not the only option: children who arrive as refugees can stay for five years and then apply for indefinite leave to remain; a person who has lived in the United Kingdom continuously for ten years can apply for indefinite leave to remain. In some circumstances, the Home Office can use its discretion to allow someone to stay after less time.

However, the system is complicated and expensive. An application for citizenship for a child whose parent has indefinite leave to remain costs over £1000.

‘There are massive fees – outrageously so: the Home Office is making money out of local authorities,’ Suzanne Mahoney said. She added that applying for citizenship as an adult was far more complicated and expensive than for children and Legal Aid is not available to adults.

‘If you identify an issue as a social worker, you can refer the child to an immigration adviser for specialist advice. Social workers can themselves make the application but it is important to get some advice about it,’ she added. The process also shows the importance of good record-keeping – evidence going back years is often required.

The pair advised that social workers should review their caseloads; ask who is British and how they know that, and for those who are not British, what is their immigration status? When did they come to the UK? Had they ever left the UK? Had they ever applied for status before?

Finally, they said, ‘Act fast. It can sometimes take 20 years for adults to get their status sorted so this is a serious matter.’

The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit is a partner with Kids In Need of Defense, through which law firms across the UK provide free legal advice and representation to undocumented children and young people.

COMPASS runs events throughout the year with seminars on topics like the above. The next COMPASS event is in London on 20 November, and you can register for your free ticket at https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/London/Book-Tickets

Find out more about Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit: https://gmiau.org

Kids in Need of Defense UK: https://www.kidsinneedofdefense.org.uk

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