Memo - The pathway to citizenship

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"Citizenship is special – but we do not make it special by setting unnecessary barriers" 

Alberto Costa MP in his foreword to the enquiry by British Future ‘Barriers to Britishness'

Author: Nicolas Hatton, CEO of the3million
September 2021

Becoming a British citizen – a tool for integration made difficult by unnecessary barriers


When we are born, we come into a family, and their first gift to us is citizenship. It is not something we choose, and most of us won’t give it many thoughts throughout our lives.

Instead, this is something we feel, such as the pride for our nation, a strong sense of belonging to our communities, and a set of values that forms the core of our identity.

Some of us will move from our place of birth to another country, and it will change our core values and identity.

Many immigrants tell the story of how they fell in love with the country they elected and how the values of their host country have become part of their own identity.

Naturalisation is the final step in this process, which formalises an individual’s transition from being a third- country national to become a citizen of this country.

According to the British Future inquiry report ‘Barriers to Britishness’ published in December 2020, 75 % of non- EU foreign nationals who entered the UK in 2005 had become British by 2018. Yet, only up to 5 % of EU citizens in the UK have acquired British citizenship.


Some questions need answers:

  1. Why are we talking about citizenship when millions of people have successfully applied for Settled Status?

  2. What does the British public think about the issue?

  3. What does the Government say about pathway to citizenship?

  4. What are the barriers?

1 Why are we talking about citizenship when millions of people have successfully applied for Settled Status?


The Brexit context favours citizenship versus an immigration status


EU citizens have shown a remarkable degree of integration in their communities. British citizenship has become the logical next step after gaining settled status for those who call the UK their home.

They want to be part of the society they are contributing to. They want representation in Parliament. They want the gold standard of identity in the UK. They want a secure and solid status for their children growing up in Britain.


There has been a new trend since the referendum


The annual number of EU citizens applying for registration and naturalisation since the Brexit referendum in 2016 has more than doubled compared to 2004 and 2016.

The trend was confirmed when 60 % of respondents to a poll in our private Facebook group with over 45,000 EU citizens told us they are aspiring to become British in the future.

Yet, the3million estimates that only up to 5 % of EU citizens in the UK have acquired British citizenship.

An uneasy pathway to citizenship


According to the British Future report ‘Barriers to Britishness’, the low uptake is due to unnecessary barriers that prevent EU children’s registration, many born in the UK, and the naturalisation of millions of EU citizens due to complexities and anomalies in the law,.

We explain further in point 3 .

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2 What does the British public think about the issue?


We commissioned a survey by ICM to understand whether the British public was at ease with the idea of EU citizens becoming British, and the results show strong support across the political spectrum for the pathway:

Over half of adults in Britain support the naturalisation of EU citizens living in the UK as a pathway to British citizenship (52 %), while around one in five people oppose such a pathway (19 %)

Support is strong across the political spectrum: people who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election are supporting this pathway to citizenship (48 %) and just over a quarter opposing (27 %) with even more robust support from Labour voters (62 % support vs 12 % oppose) and Liberal Democrat voters (73 % support vs 12 % oppose).

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3 What is the Government saying about the pathway to citizenship?


When researching the issue, we came to the unexpected conclusion that the Government is neutral on the topic, unlike other countries where the pathway to citizenship is promoted as an integration tool for their immigrant population. For many countries, citizenship is the endpoint.

At a minimum, the Government needs to develop a national narrative by making a positive case on the issue, removing anomalies and unnecessary hurdles, and delivering fairness by making it accessible to eligible people.

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4 What are the barriers?


The rules to accessing citizenship are unnecessarily complex and unaffordable, with no connection with the real world:


  • There is no birthright to UK citizenship;

  • Complicated rules regarding eligibility and a different route for children (registration) and adults (naturalisation);

  • Prohibitive fees: the cost of naturalisation for the Home Office is £372, but the cost for applying is £1,330, which is the highest of the countries we analysed (Australia £162, Germany £234, USA £570). The fee is not refundable if unsuccessful;

  • There is an anomaly for EU citizens who didn’t subscribe to an obscure Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI) policy when they studied or cared for a dependant in the UK, which impacts their requirement for a continuous lawful residence as part of the good character requirement.

  • No legal aid available to support applicants, leaving the most vulnerable EU citizens unable to apply;

  • The ‘Life in the UK’ test doesn’t prepare people to live in the UK and is not an integration tool for aspiring British citizens.

It’s worth mentioning that there is an added barrier for nationals of Austria, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia. Their country does not allow dual nationality, and EU citizens from these countries have to renounce their original nationality to become British citizens.


5 Ease the pathway to British citizenship to make it meaningful


In 2017, the3million rallied near Parliament in London under the banner ‘THIS IS OUR HOME’. Since then, the Government has repeated we are their friends, colleagues and neighbours and they wanted us to feel at home. We want to feel at home, so why not make the pathway to citizenship accessible?

Citizenship is special, but you don’t make it special by making it difficult. You can have rules, so becoming British is meaningful, but anomalies and barriers as they currently exist do not lean towards fairness in the process:

  • The Government needs to make a positive case for citizenship as a statement of integration for those who chose to make the UK their home and make clear to EU citizens that settled status is a pathway to citizenship;

  • Restore birthright citizenship and make the registration rules for children clearer and simpler, so the pathway to citizenship for minors who spent the majority of their lives in the UK is not a headache for their parents or carers;

  • Similarly, the pathway to citizenship for adults requires more straightforward eligibility rules. For the more complicated cases, restore legal aid, so the complexity of the process won’t prevent those who cannot afford a lawyer;

  • Lower the cost of registration and naturalisation to cost- price, so the price is not a barrier for those with modest incomes;

  • Formally remove the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance criteria for settled status holders;

  • Make the ‘Life in the UK’ test relevant and fit-for-purpose. People who made the UK their home celebrate the country for its culture and values, yet the test is little less than a series of unrelatable trivia.

In his foreword to the British Future inquiry, Alberto Costa MP wrote ‘Barriers to Britishness’: “Citizenship is special – but we do not make it special by setting unnecessary barriers.”


Together let’s make British citizenship meaningful again.


British Future inquiry report ‘Barriers to Britishness’:

Free Movement Blog briefing ‘The pathway to British citizenship for European nationals in the UK’:

Kings College report ‘Why it’s time to talk more about citizenship’:

Liverpool University report ‘EEA Children and citizenship’:,Children,and,British,Citizenship,-,September,2020.pdf


Migration Observatory report ‘Citizenship and naturalisation for migrants in the UK’:


the3million briefing on Comprehensive Sickness Insurance:


the3million citizenship fee comparison table:


the3million Forum for EU citizens poll:


UK Government – Naturalisation and registration dataset: 8b44-145ce26986e7


UK Government – Nationality and borders bill:


UK Government – Policy statement by the Home Secretary on 24 March 2021 ‘New plan for immigration’: CCS0820091708-001_Sovereign_Borders_Web_Accessible.pdf


UK in a changing Europe ‘How EU families are coping with Brexit uncertainty’: