This week, on one of the worst weeks for British politics in recent years, with the Tory’s crisis and the Brexit deadline looming upon us, I attended my British citizenship ceremony at Lambeth Town Hall. After living in the UK for more than 12 years, I have become British.
Why I decided to become a British citizen?
In a way, it was the natural step for me, having lived here for so long. Italy and UK have an agreement that allows dual citizenship, so I didn’t have to give up my Italian passport, which is going to be particularly valuable after Britain leaves the EU.
But the thing is, I never considered applying for the citizenship until one year ago. I don’t need a piece of paper or a blue passport to make me feel at home in London.
THIS CITY IS MY HOME.
Two years ago I shared my thoughts about reaching the milestone of 10 years in London. The Brexit referendum had just happened and I was still shaken and confused by it. I still am today, to be fair. I wrote that blog post as a way to making sense of it and saying: London welcomed me ten years ago and I feel at home in this city.
Did I feel at home in this country, though? Sadly, that changed with Brexit. It feels like a wall has gone up between Great Britain and Europe. It’s not a physical wall, but it’s there nonetheless and it will never go down (even if Brexit is somehow stopped by the People’s Vote).
Many Europeans, including some of my close friends, decided to leave Britain and move back to Europe. Those like me who want to keep living here, had to secure their future by applying for Permanent Residence and British Citizenship.
To be honest, I wasn’t worried about losing my right to live in the UK. My husband is British, so I felt pretty confident (although you never know…) that Home Office would allow us to live together in this country. And anyway, the newly introduced Settled Status will grant EU citizens the right to stay here.
More than anything though, I want to feel equal.
Brexit, made me feel like I was an outsider. I felt I had no voice on how to shape my future. I decided to become a British citizen because I wanted the right to vote in the country I live in.
Today, I feel empowered knowing that I will be able to cast my vote at the next general election or at a People’s Vote second referendum. And like me, tens of thousands of EU citizens who have become British since June 2016.
And yet, I can’t help but feeling sad that it took something like Brexit to make me want to apply for naturalisation.
Regardless of the reasons why I became a British citizen, I am happy with my decision. I am SO relieved that it’s now over!
My experience applying for British citizenship
The whole application process for British citizenship is complicated, stressful and very expensive. The AN application alone costs £1,330, but in total I paid around £2,600 from start to finish.
In June 2017, I applied for Permanent Residence. All EU citizens who have lived and worked in the UK continuously for 5 years are entitled to it.
Having a permanent residence card is not an assurance that you can live here forever. For example, if I decided to leave the UK for an extended period of time (more than 2 years) for whatever reason (health, work, etc.), I would have lost my right to return here (after Brexit).
Most importantly, the permanent residence doesn’t give you the right to vote in Great Britain. For that, you need to be a citizen.
In April 2018, after I returned from my mini sabbatical in Bali, I decided to start the AN application process.
First, I had to pass two exams: the Life in the UK (difficult) and an English speaking exam (easy).
Then, I had to fill an application and submit it to Home Office along with a certified copy of my passport and a big stack of documents proving that: I have lived here for the past 5 years and not left the country for more than the allowed number of days; that I have a job in the UK; that I pay my taxes; that I own a house and pay the mortgage; that I am married to a British citizen and my husband has a permanent job in the UK; that I am a person of good character. I also had two provide referrals from two referees: one has to be a British citizen and the other has to be a person of professional standing such as a lawyer or doctor.
I am very grateful for the UKCEN Facebook page: an invaluable source of information and support, without which I wouldn’t have known how to go through my application. The group was founded in 2016 by a group of people, including immigration lawyers, to provide reliable information for free to EU born/UK residents seeking to apply for UK citizenship.
Unfortunately I didn’t meet the residential requirements set out by Home Office, having spent more than 90 days outside of the UK in the past 12 months. I could still apply and be accepted as long as I could prove that I met all other requirements set out by Home Office: basically, that my home is here in the UK. But I knew my application was not going to be easy.
Despite finding all the answers to my questions on UKCEN, I was scared that my application would be rejected and that I would waste my money (the outcome is at the discretion of the case worker reviewing your application). For about two weeks, I couldn’t think about anything else or even sleep, I was so worried about it and I didn’t know what to do.
I spoke to several UK immigration lawyers who all said different things and quoted me fees ranging from £150 to £3,500… In the end, I hired one of the lawyers that are part of UKCEN, Tim McMahon at Commonwealth Immigration in Cambridge. We started working on my application in early September and suddenly I felt more confident about my chances of becoming a British citizen.
Long story short, I put together all the documents that Tim asked for, he then reviewed them and sent them off to Home Office along with a nice cover letter. Less than a month later, we received a positive reply from Home Office! Two months later, on 10th December 2018, I attended my citizenship ceremony at my local town hall in Brixton. In a few days, I am going to apply for a British passport.
Perhaps I will never truly feel like I belong here. After all, I don’t look British and I certainly don’t sound like one. Whenever meet someone new and I get asked “where are you from?”, I struggle for a few seconds to come up with the appropriate answer. Am I from Italy? Am I from London? I am Italian, but I am also British.
From now on, I know what my answer will be: I am from Europe and that’s what feels true to me.
This is not my usual type of blog post, but I wanted to share my experience to help and inspire other EU citizens who are still living in limbo. I hope it will be over for you too soon! If you have any questions about my application process, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.