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New “good character” restrictions put Refugees at risk of denial of citizenship

Date posted: 17 May 2019

Muhunthan Paramesvaran, a partner in our Immigration Department, explains why refugees now face a refusal of British citizenship if they delayed in claiming asylum or passed through safe countries to get to the UK.


In January this year the Home Office finally updated their good character guidance as it applies to British Citizenship applications to incorporate consideration of Article 31 of the Refugee Convention. This guidance is used by Home Office caseworkers when deciding if an Applicant is of good character and considers a number of factors including any criminal history, civil matters and immigration related offences.


Some Applicants who have been granted Refugee status in the UK may have entered the country illegally in order to claim Asylum. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention states that such illegal entry should not be penalised by the contracting state:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.


The guidance as updated in January 2019 interprets Article 31 restrictively. It states that anything over a 4 week delay in claiming Asylum would be a reason to refuse Citizenship on grounds of good character. Notably Article 31 says nothing of the sort. Understandably it recognises that due to the circumstances Refugees often find themselves in, bright line rules are not applicable to every case.


The Home Office guidance goes further and states:

There is also an expectation that those seeking protection should do so in the first available safe country, so should not, for example, travel across several European countries to claim in the UK. That by itself will not be grounds to refuse but it will be a factor to consider alongside others that may cast doubt on an applicant’s good character.


What is striking is that despite the formulation of this policy, Home Office caseworkers retain a wide discretion when considering the good character requirement. Anyone considering applying for Citizenship needs to be aware of this guidance and consider whether any of the provisions may be applicable to them in light of their own specific circumstances.


If you would like an appointment with one of our solicitors should the issues in this article be relevant to an application you are proposing to make or if your application has been refused due to the application of this policy please contact Muhunthan Paramesvaran