The Price of British Citizenship

Via the long and scenic route.

I was a weird American kid enthralled by the idea of Over There, possibly due to a pop culture diet rich with moody British rock albums and Victorian novels. Eventually I did a Master’s degree Over There — specifically, England. Then I met someone living in the U.K., went googly-eyed over the prospect of living in London, and decided to stick around for a while.

Here are the costs of the immigration process to turn Over There into Just Here. These figures are from the best of my recollection/evidence, with amounts converted from pounds into dollars at July 2017 exchange rates.

Application for a post-study work visa (2008): $517

This was rejected because the U.K. Border Agency needed more proof that I had at least $1,034 in my bank account (the required level of funds for a post-study work visa).

London Overground fare to the U.K. Border Agency to appeal this rejection (2009): $3

The appeal was successful, and I was granted a visa for two years. The post-study work visa category no longer exists.

Application for a visa in the partner category (2011): $1034

I was working as a freelancer, which didn’t satisfy the requirement for employer sponsorship, so I had to apply for a visa as a partner.

Return flight, London–Los Angeles (2011): $840

Airport transfers: approx. $20

To switch immigration categories from post-study work to partner, I was required to apply from outside the U.K.

Application for a visa extension (2012): $1,121

I wasn’t eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the U.K. despite five years of living in the country, as my time as a student didn’t count.

London Overground fare to the U.K. Border Agency to apply in person (2012): $3

For the first time, I paid the extra amount ($396) to apply in person, rather than by mail. This meant that I wouldn’t have to be without my passport for untold months.

Life in the U.K. test, a requirement for indefinite leave and citizenship applications (2014): $65

Life in the U.K. practice app (2014): $4

I took the test with the expectation of soon applying for indefinite leave to remain, although this ended up being premature. Fortunately, the results of the test should remain valid forever. Unfortunately, I’ve already forgotten what the Battle of Hastings was all about.

Application for a visa extension (2015): $1,294

London Overground fare to the U.K. Border Agency to apply in person (2015): $4

I would have been eligible at this point for indefinite leave to remain, if the immigration rules hadn’t changed within a few months of my eligibility date. Because I’d been in multiple visa categories, I no longer met the requirements.

Application for indefinite leave to remain (2017): $0

I was finally eligible for indefinite leave under the long-residence (10-year) route. Thankfully, my employer covered the cost of this application.

Application for British naturalization (2018): $1,657

I’ll be eligible for citizenship one year after obtaining indefinite leave. Yes, I’m already tallying up the costs I’ll have to pay in the future.

Nationality Checking Service fee (2018): $78

This will be a fee for my local authority to handle my citizenship application on my behalf.

Citizenship ceremony (2018): $103

Attending a citizenship ceremony — replete with a cardboard cutout of the Queen and a recitation of “God Save the Queen” — is mandatory.

Postage to mail applications over the years: approx. $13

Yes, it feels like quibbling. But sure, let’s tack this on to the calculation.

TOTAL: Assuming citizenship application costs remain as they are, the road to U.K. citizenship will end up having cost me $6,756.

I’m privileged. I’ve had flexible work arrangements; a partner with secure immigration status and enough money to lend me one of the application fees; and parents who didn’t charge me rent for the two months I lived in their house in the U.S., while I also paid my share of rent in the U.K. And I always earned enough to meet the minimum income requirement for U.K. residence permission, which is currently about $24,050/year.

Immigration processes are tougher now than when I first landed. If I’d been denied and had to return to the U.S., it wouldn’t have been a great tragedy. Mine is not a migrant hardship story.

But it does allow for some reflection on the value of this citizenship, for someone who feels no particular affinity for her country of birth. Is British citizenship really worth nearly $7,000? As a gateway to living and working anywhere in the European Union, absolutely…is what I would have enthusiastically said last year, before the U.K. voted to leave the EU.

Now… hmm. Can you put a price tag on a second nationality? Really, I’d love to know.

Christine Ro has other thoughts about citizenship, home, and all that weighty stuff. Mainly, though, she writes about books: