Brexit: how to become a British citizen
FT statistics journalist Federica Cocco is from Italy but wanted to become a British citizen to be able to vote. Here she shares her survival guide to the long and complicated process - the costs, the paperwork, the pomp and ceremony
Produced and filmed by Petros Gioumpasis
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I'm Federica. I'm from Italy. And a couple of years ago I decided to apply for British citizenship. In reality, I'd been meaning to do it for a long time because I just wanted to be able to vote in the country. I've been here for 15 years. And it's taken me a long while to save the money and get my act together to apply for citizenship.
But two years ago, I just thought, it's now or never. And that's when I started.
The first thing I did was to obtain permanent residence. I sourced two forms of evidence to prove that I worked in the UK, and then two more to prove that I lived here. And I did this for each year. In total, I provided five years of evidence. That's all you need. In truth, I've been living here for many more years. And then within a year of obtaining this, you can apply for citizenship.
As it turns out I had thrown away loads of stuff that would have been really useful. So it was a bit of a quest to put together enough stuff to prove it. But I managed easily.
Work contracts, tenancy agreements, bills, council tax, bank statements, P45s, P60s, certificates from universities, and then if anything is missing, you just have to be creative.
That's probably the gourmet burger in Greenwich. 2011 was a bit of a gap because I used to live with my ex-boyfriend and he owned the flat, paid the bills. And so the residence was a bit difficult to prove. So I had to go back to Greenwich, speak to the GP, get a letter from the council to prove that I had voted.
And at one point I remember thinking that actually my cat was better - had more evidence - more documents to prove its residence. Because she'd been registered at the same vet since 2009 and had gone there twice a year.
I mean, the council isn't too far from here. So I think I can just put it in a trolley and just carry it.
Probably even sent them too much. In the end, they accepted it. And it took them about one month to send me everything, including my residence permit.
So after being officially recognised as resident, I decided to apply to become a British national online. But if the internet is not your thing, you can also do it by post.
Basically, it asks you to repeat all the information that you've provided, where you've worked, where you've studied, where you're registered, your permanent residence card number, load the details of your documents, your parents, whether you've had any convictions, whether you have ever been involved, supported, or encouraged terrorist activities, or whether you've committed any crimes against humanity - fair enough.
But wait, there's more. You need to find two referees. At least one of them has to hold a British passport and the other one has to have what they call professional standing. So they need to have an official job, like a doctor, or an accountant, or a civil servant.
Then, you must list all the countries that you've visited in the past five years.
How did I find this out? I went on Instagram to check where I have posted. Citizenship application through selfies on Instagram.
Of course, you can't become a UK national unless you've passed the Life in the UK test. I studied from the book, but I found some of the questions a bit quirky. The answers can also be a bit outdated, or even factually incorrect
I work with statistics, so I know that nearly half of the population doesn't belong to a religion, not a quarter as stated in the book. Or that it's not true to say that 10 per cent of the population has at least one grandparent born abroad. At last count, it was actually 25 per cent, so it's probably even more now. I obviously know that a quintessential trait of a Brit is to laugh at themselves rather than have fish and chips every lunchtime.
OK, so it's been a couple of months, maybe more than a couple. But I finally plucked up the courage to pay for my citizenship. And it cost me £1,350 because it includes the cost of the ceremony, even though I haven't actually been accepted yet for citizenship.
So the next step is to book an appointment at this UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services, because recently they've changed it. Previously, you used to be able to go to your local council and have all your documents checked. Now, I have to go to one of these places. So let's see where they are.
So interestingly and conveniently, there's a couple of places that are reasonably close to me. So I could just pop out on my lunch break, I guess. Unfortunately, the places that are close to me actually are classed as premium lounges or VIP services, and therefore cost £260 to book. I'm not prepared to spend that amount of money now. The alternative is to go to Croydon, the core service point, and that's actually free.
When you go to the appointment, it's a bit like when you're checking out a flight on Ryanair and they add all these extra services. So you can also have your documents translated, or you can have an interpreter in case you don't speak English. Which is a bit odd, considering that one of the key requirements for citizenship is to be able to speak English.
Now, I have to upload my documents online and then head to Croydon, which I don't often go to.
So I finally found the office where they're going to check my documents. It's not immediately obvious that it's a government contractors office, but here I am. It's definitely this one, as you can see by the long queue. So it looks like I'll be here for a while.
I've got this niggling feeling that I've forgotten something, a bit like when you're going to the airport and you know you must've forgotten something. That's how I feel right now.
But I think I have everything here in my backpack, possibly more than I need. But yeah, I'm going to join the queue now.
Since the EU referendum, the number of applications for British citizenship from EU nationals has skyrocketed.
So my application was accepted. Next up, the ceremony, where I have to affirm my allegiance to the country, the Queen, her descendants, and her corgis - just kidding.
So 16 years ago, I moved to London here in Hackney. And it's taken me that long to become a British citizen. That's mainly my fault. It's taken me a long time to get my act together. And although it was a bureaucratic hassle sometimes, it was really a walk in the park compared to some other people that were in the room with me - mostly non-European migrants. I could see that they were much more emotional about the process than I was.
But now, I've got my certificate. And what I'm going to do next is apply for a British passport. Hopefully that will take me less than 16 years. And then finally, I will cast my first vote.