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Good character citizenship criteria quietly tightened up


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The Home Office has quietly tightened up the criteria for granting British citizenship under the good character test. This had passed me by so I thought it useful to flag up – and many thanks to Alex Moran for point it out. A number of undesirable behaviours have been added to the list of disqualifying behaviour, including illegal entry, assisting illegal migration and evasion of immigration control. The changes seem to have been made on 11 December 2014. The previous version of the guidance can be seen here and the new version here.

Unfortunately, these changes will prevent almost all refugees from qualifying for British citizenship for at least 10 years from their date of entry, as opposed to six years at present. This is arguably contrary to Article 31 of the Refugee Convention and certainly contrary to Article 34.

UPDATE: see this blog post on refugees and good character: Tightening of British citizenship rules not aimed at refugees

It also affects a very considerable number of people who may have committed minor or major infractions of immigration law, from short periods of overstay or some limited working without permission to significant deception, and who would not previously have encountered any issues with applying for naturalisation once their position was regularised.


The changes are a response to the report last year by the old Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine. In a report published on 11 December 2014 he was critical of the application of the good character test. In response the Home Office said that new guidance has been published, as it indeed has. Essentially, John Vine has single handedly re-written decades of policy on the meaning of “good character” in nationality law so as to include immigration history. Thanks, John. I’m sure refugees will be delighted. Even overstayers (and it is SO easy to find oneself an overstayer given how absurdly strict some rules are) are arguably caught by the new policy.

The new parts of the guidance are as follows:

9.5 Illegal Entry

In circumstances where an applicant entered the UK illegally, an application for citizenship should normally be refused for a period of 10 years from the date of entry, if it is known. If it is not known, the period of 10 years starts from the date on which the person first brought themselves to or came to the attention of the Home Office.

9.6 Assisting Illegal Migration

The decision maker will normally refuse an application if there are grounds for believing that the person is currently, or has previously been, involved in an attempt to assist someone in the evasion of immigration control. This includes a person whose spouse’s/civil partner’s recent application for entry clearance has been refused on relationship grounds.

9.7 Evasion of immigration control

The decision maker will normally refuse an application if within the 10 years preceding the application the person has not been compliant with immigration requirements, including but not limited to having:

a. failed to report

b. failed to comply with any conditions imposed under the Immigration Acts

c. been detected working in the UK without permission

For reference, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention reads:

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.

Exclusion from citizenship purely because of means of entry as a refugee seems to me arguably to be a “penalty”. Even if not, the change is surely contrary to Article 34:

The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

This hardly feels like facilitation. More like obstruction.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.