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Why is my citizenship application taking so long to be decided?

29 April 2020 Iain Halliday News & Announcements

 

The Home Office can take a long time to decide citizenship applications. Those applying for naturalisation as British citizens will already have indefinite leave to remain (a.k.a. settled status) in the UK and often assume that citizenship will be a quick and simple final step. Unfortunately, citizenship applications can often take longer than immigration applications to be decided.

 Why might this be?

The Home Office’s published service standard for deciding citizenship applications is 6 months. This means that any enquiry on the status of an application within 6 months of submission is likely to be met with a curt response advising that the Home Office are still within their published service standard. This is frustrating, as many applications do not take 6 months to be decided. The length of time it takes for an application to be decided seems to be entirely random. Which makes predicting timescales and explaining delay all the more difficult.

Past experience

I submitted 13 citizenship applications last year. One application was decided within 8 weeks. It was submitted at the start of October 2019 and decided by the end of November 2019. Another, submitted in May 2019, has been outstanding for nearly 1 year (or 10 months if we discount potential COVID-19 delays). There is nothing that distinguishes these two applications. You could be forgiven for assuming that applications are decided in the order that they are submitted. However my experience suggests that this is not the case.

The decision making timescales change so frequently from case to case that past experience is, to some extent, irrelevant. What matters is how many applications the Home Office are currently processing, how many case workers they have deciding them, and how they are prioritising and filtering applications upon receipt. Unfortunately we do not have access to any of this information.

However, to give people a rough idea of what to expect, the average time taken to decide the 13 citizenship applications I submitted on behalf of clients last year was just over 4 months (127 days) from the date of application. This includes any delay between submission of the application and attending the biometric appointment. The average is reduced to just under 4 months (119 days) if the timescale is calculated from the date of the biometric appointment (which is when the Home Office actually start considering the application).

Applications submitted after March 2019 seem to be taking much longer to be decided. Perhaps due to an increase in applications from EU nationals seeking citizenship in light of Brexit.

What can be done?

If an application has been outstanding for over 6 months there are variety of ways to put pressure on the Home Office to issue a decision:

  1. Write to them seeking an explanation for the delay – this is rarely met with anything other than a stock response, however it can be useful further down the line to show that you have attempted to seek an update and been rebuffed;
  1. Contact your local Member of Parliament – there is a dedicated MP Correspondence Unit at the Home Office which responds to requests from MPs for updates on their constituents’ immigration and citizenship cases. You can find out who your local MP is here - https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP;
  1. Lodge a pre-action protocol letter threatening judicial review. The courts have held that where delay is the result of an irrational system it may be unlawful. However, there would need to be strong evidence of how the delay is affecting your life to justify judicial review: for instance medical evidence confirming that the delay is having a negative effect on your mental health; or evidence of a pending job offer which requires British citizenship. Irrationality is a high threshold.

A common grievance from those awaiting decisions from the Home Office is that they cannot travel whilst the application is outstanding. This is true for most immigration applications. However there is nothing to prevent a person from travelling whilst their citizenship application is outstanding.

There is little point in pursuing the Home Office for delay at the moment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even if your citizenship application is granted, you will not be able to attend your citizenship ceremony. You are not a citizen until the ceremony takes place. It is also perfectly reasonable that, in the middle of a global pandemic, the Home Office may take longer than usual to process cases. Recently submitted application will be delayed due to closure of the UKVCAS Service Centres and the Home Office, like the rest of us, will no doubt be facing disruption due to sick staff and difficulties working from home.

However, once things are back to normal, the above suggestions may help put pressure on the Home Office to reach a decision within a reasonable timescale.  

 

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