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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today released a new report entitled A better reward? Public attitudes to citizenship, calling for reform of the UK’s citizenship system to reward Covid-19 key workers.

The report analyses public attitudes about the importance of, benefits of and criteria for citizenship, and provides policy ideas for — and a strong case to — this Conservative Government for reforming the citizenship process, including making it easier for COVID-19 key workers to become full UK citizens more cheaply and quickly.

Bright Blue’s three policy recommendations are:

  • The Government should shorten the settlement requirements for all non-citizen COVID-19 key workers to two rather than five years, significantly reduce their residency fee by at least 75% and waive their citizenship application fee.
  • The Government should introduce discounted citizenship fees by at least 50% for all low-income migrants.
  • The Government should introduce free citizenship for children born and raised in the UK by parents who are not British citizens.

Bright Blue’s nine key findings about UK public attitudes towards citizenship:

  • A clear majority of the British public think it is important for immigrants living permanently in the UK to become citizens (60%).
  • The UK public are more likely than not to believe that the current cost to an applicant of applying for citizenship as an adult non-EU applicant is too high (43%) rather than about right (28%) or too low (16%).
  • The UK public thinks it should be cheaper for certain immigrant groups to become citizens, especially immigrants who work in key frontline sectors such as social care or the NHS (78%), immigrants with skills which are in shortage (75%) and immigrants who have worked and paid taxes in Britain for more than five years (75%).
  • The UK public thinks it should be quicker for immigrants who work for the NHS (57%), immigrants who are key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (55%) and immigrants who work in social care to become citizens (50%).
  • A majority of the public support discounted citizenship fees for children born and raised in the UK by parents who are not British citizens (71%).
  • The UK public are more likely than not to believe that the Home Office should continue to apply the ‘good character’ requirement to child citizenship applicants (40% versus 24%).
  • A clear majority of the UK public support the introduction of birthright citizenship (53%).
  • A plurality of the UK public are generally supportive of citizenship ceremonies, but reject the idea that they should be extended beyond new citizens to all British citizens (52%).

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield, Researcher at Bright Blue and report author, commented:

“There exists great public appetite for a reformed citizenship system that makes it quicker and cheaper for particular immigrants to become citizens, especially COVID-19 key workers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the national contribution of the UK’s one million foreign key workers. Shamefully, the prohibitively high and profiteering nature of residency and citizenship fees charged by the Home Office may put citizenship beyond their grasp.

“We should thank those foreign workers who have helped us during the pandemic with an accelerated and cheaper route to British citizenship, including reducing by at least 75% the permanent residency fee and waiving the citizenship fee.”

James Crouch, senior research manager at Opinium, commented:

“The public’s attitudes towards citizenship is more complex than we give it credit but there is a clear acceptance that the current system is worthy of reform. In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic we find that key workers from abroad are received very positively, with many believing that the system should be less prohibitive for them. On the other hand, we also find some aspects where the public prefer continuity, such as the ‘good character’ requirements in place for child citizenship applicants.”