To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the UK Home Office is bad. Really bad. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly bad it is.

And yet, the story that’s gained media attention today is one where the Home Office doesn’t seem to be the main party at fault, and where it isn’t doing anything particularly unreasonable.

Shane Ridge was born in the UK 21 years ago, to a dad who’s a UK-born UK citizen, and a mum who’s an Australian-born UK citizen. Being born in the UK with a UK citizen mum makes him a UK citizen automatically, unequivocally, no backsies.

Presumably having never been abroad before, Mr Ridge applied for a UK passport about a year ago to go on holiday, and got rejected. It’s not clear from the article why this initial rejection happened.

If this happened to me, I’d find it a bit worrying. Depending on the reason stated for the rejection, I’d maybe resubmit with the missing paperwork, double-check my citizenship status, or possibly even get in touch with a migration expert.

Instead, Mr Ridge came up with a cunning plan.

He applied for an Australian passport, because as well as being an automatic UK citizen via his mum, he’s also an automatic Australian citizen via his mum. This arrived in time for the holiday, which was presumably great fun.

He then returned to the UK on his brand new Australian passport, and [assuming he followed the same procedure as anyone else arriving in the UK on an Australian passport without a visa acquired in advance] was given a six-month tourist visa on arrival.

Six-months-plus-a-while later, Mr Ridge was surprised to receive a letter suggesting that, as an illegal Australian visa overstayer in the UK, his driving licence had been cancelled, and that it’d be a good idea if he were to leave the country voluntarily.

Now, as a British-born person who’s only ever left the UK for one holiday, this is clearly not the kind of letter you want to receive.

But from the Home Office’s point of view, he’s on record as arriving in the UK from another country on a tourist visa six-months-plus-a-while ago. And [shift from the facts reported in the piece and the facts of UK nationality law to my conjecture based on the facts] he presumably isn’t on record as being a UK citizen.

I’m a fan of open borders in general, but for as long as closed borders exist, “turning up on a tourist visa, staying for longer than that, and working for money throughout the period, in a country that you aren’t a citizen of and don’t have the right to work in” is on the pisstakey side.

So why doesn’t the Home Office think Mr Ridge is a citizen? The denial of the passport last year is a clue, as is a paragraph from the Guardian piece that should be completely irrelevant to his case:

Under UK law, if a child was born before July 2006, the father’s British nationality will usually only automatically pass to the child if he was married to the mother at the time of birth. Because Ridge’s parents never married, he does not have an automatic right to citizenship and is required to apply for “right of abode”.

This does reflect a real law. Embarrassingly for all concerned, it took until 2006 for the UK to legislate that children where:

  • their father was a UK citizen;
  • their mother was a foreign citizen without the right of abode in the UK; AND
  • their parents were never married, either at the time of the child’s birth or afterwards

…were UK citizens by birth, because antiquated Victorian notions about illegitimacy die hard. And because changing people’s citizenships retrospectively can have all kinds of unexpected and bad consequences, when the law was finally changed in 2006, people born before the change in the law were made eligible to register for UK citizenship rather than automatically conferred it.

This means the situation described in the Guardian article can arise: someone born in the UK before 2006 to a foreign mum without the right of abode in the UK who was never married to their British dad may think that they’re British, but then discover that they aren’t. At this point, they have to fill out a form and pay £80 to register as a UK citizen, and then they are after all.

But Mr Ridge’s mother is a UK citizen. So – as I said at the top of the thread – Mr Ridge is a UK citizen already, and doesn’t need to go through the registration process.

So what’s going on here? [I’m going back to conjecture at this point, inevitably]

It seems that the passport application got knocked back because the person issuing the passport thought that Mr Ridge had a foreign mum without the right of abode in the UK, and therefore wasn’t automatically a UK citizen despite having a UK citizen dad.

It’s impossible to know whether this is because Mr Ridge cocked up the passport application, because the assessor cocked up reading the passport application, because the passport application process is poorly designed, or some combination of the three.

Assuming I’m right that he was knocked back for his original passport on these grounds, then the Home Office’s file on Mr Ridge will show:

  • He got rejected for a passport for not being a UK citizen
  • He didn’t take any steps to correct this (e.g. resubmitting with details of his mother’s nationality, trying to register as a citizen, etc)
  • He then turned up in the UK on a foreign passport as a tourist and overstayed his visa.

Even though Mr Ridge is, in fact, a UK citizen, this is a set of circumstances in which it’d be fair enough for an immigration officer to assume he wasn’t.

Anyway.

The whole thing’s a teacupgate; he’s a UK citizen and won’t be deported; he got a nasty shock when opening the post, and hopefully that’ll teach him to avoid Baldrick-esque cunning plans in future. Let’s save our ire for the thousands of cases where the Home Office are actually tremendous scumbags.

UPDATE: the Home Office have confirmed that he’s a UK citizen, and implied that they are probably the ones who cocked up his original passport application. This still really doesn’t make the “sod it, go for another country” strategy a good one.

Image: If the lion can’t prove his mum’s British, he’s getting a nasty letter too. By Jonund / CC-BY-SA 2.0

One thought on “A bad way to find out that bureaucrats aren’t fans of cunning plans

  1. I agree, I think the reporting has not wanted to let any actual journalism get in the way of ‘saying what happened’.

    It sounds like the original passport application didn’t have sufficient supporting documents, or something along those lines.

    If he was born in the UK with parents with UK citizenship (either by birth or descent), then he’s reset the clock on being a UK citizen otherwise than by descent. But to get a passport you need to give them the correct documents. The info on the father in the articles was sketchy.

    Dealing with the original passport application was the answer. As you say, he’s then created a new issue by arriving in the UK on a foreign passport as a tourist. Some kind of data matching has then been linked up to his details with a driving license.

    It’s not really so weird at all that there would be data matching efforts going on out there to match foreign tourists with driving licenses, NHS treatments, school enrollments and so on. It’s not going to know he’s a local national if he hasn’t filled in the paperwork correctly or provided the documentation. He did arrive back in the country on a foreign passport without having a local one too.

    The law clearly shows he’s a UK citizen from the facts given. Why the articles never just say he has to fill in a form or provide paperwork is just because they want to sensationalize it.

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