“Good character” requirements + “the public good”

Deprivation of citizenship is a largely overlooked area of the Hostile Environment. However, these powers could impact more British citizens than you might think.

In the wake of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 which introduced greater Government powers to strip people of their citizenship, understanding how deprivation of citizenship occurs is essential. A core aspect of its operation concerns the ‘good character’ requirement, including the construction of whether an individual is ‘conducive to the public good’. This idea is foundational to the granting of citizenship as well as long-term settlement decisions, such as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). 

Good character

The good character test was introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 and applies to anyone over the age of 10 applying for citizenship or long-term residence in Britain.

Usually, a person will not be considered of good character if any of the following apply:

  • Criminality- including if there are reasonable grounds to suspect they have been involved in a crime
  • International crimes, terrorism and any other “non-conducive activity”. This includes (supporting) war crimes, extremism and public order offences
  • Financial soundness
  • Notoriety, i.e. where someone has not been convicted of a crime but is known within their community/ies for significantly poor behaviour 
  • Deception and dishonesty in dealings with any governmental department
  • Immigration offences, including irregular entry and lying to immigration officials
  • Deprivation, i.e. if someone has had their citizenship deprived before

Many of the definitions of categories for refusal are vague, left up to the interpretation of caseworkers, including descriptions of ‘public order’ and ‘extremism’ and judgements of whether applicants with criminal convictions are ‘rehabilitated’. Judgements have been so strict that we know of cases where people have been denied ILR for an accumulation of parking tickets, which Home Office guidance suggests signifies a disregard for the law.

The financial aspect to this test serves to punish low income migrants, especially those with disabilities, as NHS debt over £500 is listed as a grounds for refusal, and rough sleeping can be used to deny permission to stay.

The public good

The question of whether someone’s permanent presence in Britain is ‘conducive to the public good’ is also a criterion of the good character test. Unlike many of the discretionary factors associated with good character judgements, someone’s presence in the UK being non-conducive to the public good is a mandatory grounds for refusal

This is intentionally vaguely defined in Home Office guidance as “reprehensible behaviour falling short of a conviction, or because their identity, travel history or other circumstances means that their presence in the UK poses a threat to UK society”. This includes terrorism and extremism. Other guidance also mentions conduciveness to the public good as a reason for deprivation of citizenship, referencing section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, where it is not defined. It is therefore more useful to look at how it has been applied in order to understand what is meant by actions being ‘conducive to the public good’.

The primary application of public good factors is in cases of deprivation of citizenship; The Home Secretary may revoke someone’s British citizenship where ‘deprivation is conducive to the public good’. This is often equated with ‘national security’. In contrast, public good decisions in ILR or British citizenship applications are made by a Home Office caseworker. 

There is also a difference in the severity of actions deemed non-conducive to the public good in the deprivation versus granting of citizenship and refusal of entry or settlement, as the former normally refers to severe crimes, often associated with terrorism, whereas there is no need for a criminal conviction for the latter if there is reliable intelligence that suggests, at the minimum, an association with terrorism.


The good character test utilises exclusionary ideas of worth and deservingness through the anti-migrant notions of ‘contribution’ and the ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ migrant. The notion of conduciveness to the public good adds to this by invoking racist ideals of ‘civility’ and associations of racialised migrants with criminality and, for Muslim migrants, extremism. The vagueness and discretionary character of these judgements aids their discriminatory application.

The expansion of these extreme powers makes the British citizenship of racialised, migratised and Muslim communities in Britain more precarious. The effects this then has on migrants and migratised people without British citizenship, in applying for either citizenship or indefinite leave to remain, is greatly concerning, where people are forced to meet vague criteria, which is also set to work against them to varying degrees, depending on their background (e.g. class, country of origin). 

At MRN, we strive for justice for all migrants and migratised people, which means challenging these higher barriers for formal inclusion and the insecurity that they generate. This is why we will be continuing to carry out research on the effects of deprivation of citizenship, including the good character test in citizenship applications.

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