2012 was *the* year for becoming a British citizen, according to the Times, who report that 193,000 new citizens got their British passports that year, a nine per cent increase on the year before. They’ve crudely titled the article “The Great Passport Giveaway”.
Cute. Except, of course, that a passport is not free, and never “given” to anyone. You may be granted citizenship if you are an asylum seeker, but even that process is convoluted, painful and subject to agonising delays – if your appeal is accepted. For others, if you’re a non-EEA citizen, it takes at least six years. Six years during which, contrary to popular belief, you’re not eligible for benefits. And you have to get indefinite leave to remain first, which costs about £1,000. A year later you could apply for your passport, which costs about the same. Before that you will have paid for whatever visa you’re on, extensions, a Life in the UK test, postage, and when you get to the citizenship ceremony, the service itself. In fact, the passport involves yet another interview and you pay about £90 for the privilege. It’s certainly not an entitlement. However, when there are these sorts of bitter articles denigrating newly-minted citizens, is it any wonder that some end up feeling disconnected from the State? Integrate! You’re told, but you’re rebuffed at every turn. You have to constantly ready to “perform citizenship”, to be the best version of an idealised citizen* because you are always, always on probation. Integrate, how, if you won’t let us?
I became a citizen in that “bumper crop” of 2012. It was a surprisingly emotional process, and finally, I felt like I was home. I have another home. But I have a life here too. But what was different was the feeling that over 11 years, I have earned my right to belong. Like so many before and after me, I’ve paid my dues, I’ve participated. I’ve loved and lost here. I’ve laid down roots. But this is apparently bad. What was interesting in the comments within the article, from Keith Vaz, is that immigration is considered an unalloyed bad – with no upsides. We’re now moving past quibbles about what sort of migration works for Britian – or doesn’t – to a universal message that it’s the root of every problem:
“Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “This is an extraordinary figure. To be responsible for a quarter of all new passports issued to migrants in the EU flies in the face of suggestions that settlement and migration is under control.”
Is that surprising, when every problem is refracted through the lens of migration? Didn’t build enough houses? Migration. Can’t get your kid into a school? migration. Austerity ripping the welfare net to shreds and pulling the carpet out from under your feet? Migration. And what distorts the debate is that the tolerant majority aren’t as exercised as the rabidly anti-migration minority. For them it is the only issue, the one that gives all others their salience – the touchstone for every ill visited upon Britain. So they shout the loudest. And yet, research shows that the public at large has nuanced views on this. But no one appeals to this tolerant streak. If Keith Vaz is speaking for Labour, then what of the Tories and UKIP? This is a happy consensus, a craven alliance of the cowardly. Because rather than aim their big guns at the real culprits (banks, anyone? ideologically-driven economic policies such as austerity? lack of planning?) for the individual problems I’ve mentioned, they offer small politics that appeal to the lowest common denominator. This dearth of information and compassion has far-reaching effects. We’re prepared to let people die in the Mediterranean to reduce the “pull factor” to the UK. When Mark Reckless says that migrants should be piled into boats at Dover and sent away, even UKIP balked. But I’m sure many agreed. He wouldn’t have felt confident in saying so otherwise.]
*incidentally, some migrants are brilliant. Some are awful. Some are mediocre. Because, you know, HUMANS. And hey, Britain, so are you. So are you.