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Assume a child (aged 15) has a different surname to its mother. They live with their mother and father, but the mother did not take the father's name on marriage. All three are UK citizens, have UK passports in their own name, are UK resident, and the father and mother are married. The only thing mildly unusual (and hardly remarkable in the 21st century) is the mother did not take the surname of the father on marriage, and the child has the surname of the father (which is different to the mother).

A few of weeks ago, the mother and child travelled by plane to an EU destination, without the father.

  • On flying out of the UK, this presented no problem.

  • On returning to the UK (from the EU), a long dialog with the immigration officer ensued where he threatened to not permit re-entry because the child had a different surname to the parent traveling, and "The Children's Act" (sic - there are several) requires that the child also carries a birth certificate. Eventually (30 minutes later, and after interrogation as to what the child's middle names are etc), common sense prevails.

There were no other factors likely to interest the immigration officer. The child's passport had been issued a month previously and the photograph was thus a good likeness. The child concerned had no difficulty travelling with school to another EU country without a birth certificate or any letters from either parent.

This seems completely bizarre to me, given:

  1. I can find no legal requirement that anyone needs to carry a birth certificate.

  2. The child could simply have gained entry as a UK citizen if the mother was not there at all.

  3. The risk one would have thought needed addressing was one parent absconding with a child after separation. In this case, should the check not be being made on departure? Return to where all parties are resident seems unproblematic.

  4. The fact mother and child have different surnames is not indicative of marital break-up (consider e.g. unmarried parents); indeed when a married couple break up it is likely (if they changed name on marriage) they will still have the same surname (at least on their passport) for a while.

So, to my questions:

  1. Is there a requirement that children traveling with a parent with a different surname carry their birth certificate?

  2. If so where is the legal origin of such a requirement?

Note: I am not asking this in order assist in the parent concerned raising a complaint against a particular immigration officer. I am asking so I can tell the parent concerned what the requirements are should she wish to travel with her children unimpeded in future.

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    whenever a child travels with only one parent, it is wise to have a letter from the other parent permitting it. This would probably have prevented your difficulties. On the face of it demanding a birth certificate seems silly, but perhaps the officer felt an abducting parent might not be able to get one? – Kate Gregory Aug 31 '15 at 13:43
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    @KateGregory how would the immigration officer determine a letter with a random signature was genuine? – abligh Aug 31 '15 at 13:50
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    I have no idea. Nonetheless, my government recommends doing it travel.gc.ca/travelling/children/consent-letter – Kate Gregory Aug 31 '15 at 13:52
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo no argument from me on matters of logic or fact. But government recommendations are a thing of their own and worth knowing about – Kate Gregory Aug 31 '15 at 17:01
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    @GayotFow I can't answer the OPs two questions, but neither does referring to section 55, which only impose a vague requirement that the officials must 'safeguard and promote the welfare of children'. I doubt that 'safeguarding' is suppsed to cover refusal of entry of UK citizens. There are requirements about parental consent when foreign children are travelling alone or accompanied by other adults to the UK, but I find no legal basis for the alleged claim that minor UK citizens can be refused entry to the UK if can't prove their relationship to any adult they are travelling together with. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Aug 31 '15 at 17:22
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If you will allow me to take your questions in reverse order...

If so where is the legal origin of such a requirement?

Given that the IO referred to 'The Children's Act', the legal origin is found in Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship, and Immigration Act 2009 which reads in part...

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Shortly before the bill received Royal Assent, ILPA published a fact sheet with the intent of briefing the relevant practitioners...

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You can read the briefing to get familiar with the details. The Border Force has also published internal guidance on how to interpret the law. ILPA also states that the drafting of the Border Force's guidance was put before the British public in an open consultation and now reflects the public's sentiment on the issue. Your situation is by no means unique and the interaction that took place at the control point is massively well-grounded in law.


Your other question: Is there a requirement that children traveling with a parent with a different surname carry their birth certificate?

If your narrative is factual, then it's plain to see that there is no explicit requirement to carry a birth certificate. Otherwise the children would have been detained.

On the other hand...

The Immigration Officer is entitled to carry out the law and he can pursue any line of enquiry relevant to that purpose. The IO not only has the full strength of the law behind him, he also has a precedent within the judicial system. In 2014 a case was brought before the Upper Tribunal and the decision reads...

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That answers both your questions. There is no explicit requirement to carry a birth certificate. On the other hand, your friend can expect to endure similar delays in the future without adequate preparation.

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    "There is no explicit requirement to carry a birth certificate. On the other hand, your friend can expect to endure similar delays in the future without adequate preparation" - My wife and son are in exactly the same situation and occasionally get some questioning at immigration in the UK. However, you would think after it happens once, the interaction would be recorded on the computer and be seen on future occasions? – Berwyn Jun 8 '16 at 6:15
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Is there a requirement that children traveling with a parent with a different surname carry their birth certificate?

I would say no. I (my family) have been in this situation several times. I am an IT contractor (actually British/Canadian dual nationality), my kids are on British passports, with my surname (wife kept maiden name). Often holidays for us have us going to airport home, then me checking in and travelling on a different flight to elsewhere in the UK (usually Southern England, live in Scotland), so my wife travels with the kids on UK passports, but different surname to hers. She has never been questioned on it, or even had a second look.

Is it possible there were something in race/surname/behaviour that sparked a suspicion in the border agent? You'd want to think it wouldn't matter, but given the UK press coverage of mothers attempting to take families to Syria via routes to join ISIS, maybe you (unfortunately ) fell into a demographic that prompted further investigation?

  • I'm quite sure people of different backgrounds have life much harder in such circumstances. But in this instance the mother (and child) are both white, native British, fair skinned, blonde haired, and (as far as I know) Christian (not that any of those things should matter, but I appreciate they may in practice). They were (as was obvious from luggage) returning from holiday from an EU destination (i.e. coming into the country rather than leaving). The mother is a psychiatrist. I am told there were no behaviour issues. I don't condone racial profiling, but this cannot be a case of that. – abligh Sep 13 '15 at 11:43
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    If the mother had been leaving the country, that might make some sort of sense, but coming back in? – abligh Sep 13 '15 at 11:44
  • Just trying to suggest, my (our) experience suggests there is no automatic requirement, as we've done similar many times. – The Wandering Dev Manager Sep 13 '15 at 12:50
  • It's a fishing exercise. They probably don't have the same first name either. But just checking. Most Commonwealth allow the child to be given an arbitrary surname at birth. It might not match either parent. – mckenzm Dec 9 '18 at 23:56
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If you will allow me to take your questions in reverse order...

If so where is the legal origin of such a requirement?

There is none.


Your other question: Is there a requirement that children traveling with a parent with a different surname carry their birth certificate?

If your narrative is factual, then it's plain to see that there is no explicit requirement to carry a birth certificate. Otherwise the children would have been detained.

  • Thanks. I'm not actually the parent concerned. As far as I can tell, none of your references suggest it's either necessary or sufficient to carry a birth certificate. My problem isn't an immigration officer using a fact based approach, but the insistence on one particular piece of documentation which as far as I can see would not actually have been useful as the child concerned could simply have passed through immigration without any adult present, and where there appears to be no reliable means of telling in advance what immigration will need. – abligh Aug 31 '15 at 13:58
  • @abligh, presumably this is the answer you wanted to see. You could have written that in the first place and saved me the trouble of preparing an answer that might have been helpful to your 'friend'. While this answer is factually correct, your 'friend' can expect more delays like those that prompted your question. – Gayot Fow Sep 13 '15 at 3:46
  • I upvoted both your answers (& accepted the other). I'm a bit confused by your comment. I made that comment on (and have left the question unchanged since) Aug 31, but you prepared your answer (which I upvoted and accepted) today! Anyway, thanks for preparing it. – abligh Sep 13 '15 at 7:10
  • @abligh I'm grateful that you came back. My thoughts: you now have an abundance of information to properly advise someone on what could happen and why. Theory and practice sufficient to discuss with IO's from an informed viewpoint. The experience you wrote about could be cleared up in about a minute if the mother is prepared. :) – Gayot Fow Sep 13 '15 at 8:19
  • the thing that still confuses me (which is why I waited before accepting) is that the child could simply have passed through immigration first (without the mother) and there would be been no difficulty, and indeed had travelled alone a few weeks before. – abligh Sep 13 '15 at 8:35

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