Struggling for British Citizenship: The Student who Took the Government to the High Court…and Won

Last week I received the wonderful news that one of my youngest clients Arnold had attended his citizenship ceremony and finally become a British national.

He is just a month short of his 21st birthday.

Securing citizenship is always excellent news but when it comes after such a difficult struggle by a young man taking on the might of the State, the sense of triumph is even greater.

For Arnold’s journey had by no means been a short or easy one.

Arnold arrived in the UK from Malawi in 2005.

He was only 8 years old.

He came to join his father who was studying in the UK at that time.

Arnold’s mother and two younger siblings had arrived a year earlier.

Since arriving here, Arnold has never returned to Malawi.

In 2011, after Arnold’s father had completed his studies, he applied for further leave to remain in the UK on the basis that his children would struggle to readjust to life in Malawi.

The Home Office refused the family’s application and told them that they needed to leave the UK.

It was at this point that I first met Arnold and his family.

By all accounts, Arnold was a brilliant student.

Admired by friends and teachers alike, he was very focused on his studies and future career plans.

He also presented as a very devout Christian who was heavily involved in volunteer work at his church.

Although the family lost the appeal initially, an Upper Tribunal judge set aside that decision.

The judge allowed the appeal, finding that Arnold and his siblings had become “embedded in British education, culture and society” and  would “find it difficult to adapt to a new life in Malawi.”

As a result, the family were granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.

Applying for Citizenship


In March 2014 with university looming, Arnold wished to apply for British citizenship.

We submitted an application under section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 which gives the Home Office a discretion to grant a child citizenship where it would be in his best interests to do so.

This means that even if a child does not meet any other requirements of the law and is of good character, the Home Office still has the freedom to grant citizenship.

The Home Office’s own guidance on the law states that

“The most important criterion is that the child’s future should clearly be seen to lie in the UK.”

The evidence submitted in support of Arnold’s application included

  • the previous court decision
  • a glowing and detailed letter from Arnold’s personal tutor confirming the extraordinary level of self-motivation that he has shown in securing excellent grades, and how he acted as a mentor to other students
  • a letter from university offering him a place to study pharmacy

Despite all of the evidence clearly demonstrating that his future lay in the UK, Arnold’s application was refused.

Any lawyer will tell you that there is only one thing more frustrating than a poorly reasoned refusal letter.

And that is a refusal letter that does not contain any reasons.

The Home Office response to over 30 pages of representations and evidence based on the law, policy and facts was to issue a two paragraph refusal that failed to engage with anything that had been submitted.

Not a single reason was given as to why discretion had not been exercised in Arnold’s favour.

We submitted an application for reconsideration which it took the Home Office almost an entire year to process.

During this period, Arnold’s leave to remain expired which suddenly left him unable to pursue his university dreams.

Now prohibited by the Home Office from working or studying, Arnold was left waiting endlessly for a new decision.

To make matters worse, the Home Office’s attack dogs Capita began to continuously harass him, calling  him and sending him text messages to tell him that he had to leave the UK.

When the Home Office finally responded, it once again failed to provide any reasons for the refusal simply stating that the correct procedures had been followed.

A threat of legal action triggered a more detailed letter which maintained the decision but reasoned that it was because neither of Arnold’s parents were British.

Judicial Review 


With no right of appeal against the decision, Arnold and his parents decided to issue legal proceedings in the High Court against the Home Office.

In insisting that one of Arnold’s parents had to be British, the Home Office had compromised its freedom to grant him citizenship.

After all, its policy states that the guidance ” did not amount to hard and fast rules” and that each case needed to be considered on its own merits.

Critically the most important factor was for the child’s future to clearly lie in the UK.

But in this case, the Home Office had not considered Arnold’s individual circumstances at all and refused purely on the basis that neither of his parents were British.

Counsel in the case was the brilliant Amanda Weston at Garden Court Chambers.

Amanda is involved in a number of similar cases involving older teenagers whose applications to be registered as British citizens were refused for identical reasons.

After a year of litigation, the Home Office finally backed down and not only granted Arnold citizenship, but also agreed to pay all of his legal costs.

Although the case took away almost two years of this brilliant young man’s life during which time he could not study, work, or run a business, he remains typically positive about his future.

Now that he is officially British, Arnold is applying for university places for the coming academic year and moving on with his promising career.

For more advice about how to register a child as a British citizen, please see 3 Ways to Give Your Child the Gift of British Citizenship.,  Diary of an Immigration Lawyer, is a blog run by Fahad Ansari, the director and principal solicitor of Riverway Law, a niche UK immigration and nationality law practice based in London.  If you would like any advice or assistance in relation to your immigration matter, please do not hesitate to email me at or submit your details here.

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