Volunteer centres condemn fast-track citizenship plans

Letter to UK Border Agency says scheme 'goes against the principles of volunteering'

The Government's plans for fast-tracking the citizenship applications of migrants who do voluntary work are impractical, underfunded and risk coercing people to volunteer, according to Greater London Volunteering, the umbrella body for volunteer centres in the capital.

In a strongly worded letter to the UK Border Agency, the organisation says the scheme "goes against the principles of volunteering" by giving volunteers "a version of payment in kind".

The fast-track citizenship plan forms part of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Act, which became law last month. Migrants that have been resident in the UK for five years will be granted a UK passport in one further year rather than three if they can prove they have volunteered.

The GLV letter, seen by Third Sector, says "everyone, including refugees and migrants, should be encouraged and enabled to volunteer, but volunteering should always be free from coercion".

It says the increased demand for volunteering that could be generated by the scheme "is not backed up by suggestions of an increase in resources to the sector" and that limited availability of volunteering placements in some areas of the UK could mean some migrants would be unfairly denied access to fast-track citizenship.

The letter also says the need to provide evidence of active citizenship through volunteering would place a burden on organisations that recruited migrant volunteers and change their relationship with volunteers.

GLV represents about 30 volunteer centres and development agencies. Its director, Kerry Tweed, said she feared the policy would be implemented despite the concerns raised by the sector.

"The Government is skewing the meaning of volunteering and it hasn't given organisations that work with volunteers and migrant communities the chance to express what the policy could mean for them," she said.

She said GLV had asked in the letter for a meeting to discuss its concerns, which it said were not covered by the Home Office consultation on the new law.

A UK Border Agency spokeswoman said it would respond in due course. She said nobody was obliged to use the scheme, but voluntary work helped migrants to integrate into society. 

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