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X-Ray investigates British nationality

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010

For most of us, applying for a passport is one of those fiddly things which takes a bit of planning, but at the end of the day is pretty straightforward. But not for Wanda Montana-Jones from Pontypridd. For her, getting a passport has turned out to be an uphill battle although she's lived here for more than 60 years.

Wanda came over here with her parents when she was a year old. Her parents were Polish, but they fled their homeland during the war. Wanda was born in Germany in 1946, and a year later the family moved to Wales, first living in Abercynon and then moving to Ynysboeth. Her father bought a house there and worked in the mines like many Polish people of the time.


Wanda looks at an old family photo

Wanda's father died young - at the age of 38. During his life he'd tried desperately to find the family he'd left behind in Poland but with no success. Then, a year ago, Wanda's youngest daughter Lisa Hillard started to research the family tree and made a startling discovery.

Using an international tracing service, Lisa finally had a card through the door one Christmas entirely in Polish. It was from Wanda's uncle.

The family in Wales were overjoyed and, as Wanda still remembered some of the Polish she learnt as a child, she was soon on the phone to her eighty-year-old Uncle Mieczystlav Spytma.

"He was over the moon", said Wanda. "I thought, 'what a shame all those years wasted!'."

Desperate to meet her uncle, Wanda made plans to travel to Poland and applied for a passport. But to her amazement she was told she wasn't eligible for a British passport because she wasn't considered to be a British citizen. Wanda was also advised that, like most foreigners wanting a British passport, she would have to sit a citizenship test.

Wanda was shocked. "I've been here all my life. I thought I was very British. Got married, had all three children here. I've been on jury service, how much more British do you need?"

And it's not just the test. To be eligible for a passport, the UK Border Agency stipulate that Wanda would also have to pay a fee of £735 to become a British citizen. She can't afford to do that, although she's desperate to make the journey to Poland:

"Because I was close to my father, I want to do it for his sake as well. You could always see on his face that he wanted to see his family."

Wanda's younger sister Lilia is already planning her trip to Poland, but doesn't want to go without Wanda. Because Lilia was born here she already has a British passport. But the UK Border Agency is adamant that, because Wanda wasn't born here, she will have to qualify and pay for citizenship.

Erika Helps is the chief executive at Pontypridd Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB). She's asked the CAB's immigration specialists to look at Wanda's case and they think that previous legislation could mean that Wanda's already a British citizen.

Erika said that CAB's specialists have already identified that the Nationality Act 1981 and the Immigration Act of 1971 may have already have conferred British Citizenship on Wanda - potentially good news.

So, Wanda's dream of meeting her father's long lost brother may still come true. The CAB say they should have an answer for her in the next few months...

But for now, the UK Border Agency have refused to be interviewed, but in a statement they say that in order to obtain a British passport Vanda must first naturalise as a British citizen. It's a clear legal process, with a fee of £735. And that can't be reduced or waived.

We'll keep you posted on how the CAB's investigation goes.


  • Comment number 1.

    I find myself in a very similar position to Wanda.
    Born in Lithuania, lived in Rhodesia now Zimbabwe for approx 50 years.
    Became a citizen of Southern Rhodesia in 1964 (Citizenship of Southern Rhodesia and British Nationality Act, 1963). Married a British citizen in 1974, widowed in 1999. Was granted Right of Abode in 2000. Arrived in the UK in 2003. Applied for British citizenship. Home Office rules and regulations made that impossible at the time. Now, 7 years later find myself without a passport nor the means to pay the fees required which, including the application, naturalisation etc, amount to approx £840.
    Your programme has given me hope.


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