Wolves defender Harry Birtwistle's application to renounce his S'pore citizenship rejected

Harry Birtwistle was born in Singapore and resided here until he was 13 in 2017. PHOTO: HARRY BIRTWISTLE/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - Harry Birtwistle, the young Singapore-born footballer who on Wednesday (Oct 27) signed professional terms with English Premier League (EPL) club Wolverhampton Wanderers, applied to renounce his citizenship, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Friday (Oct 29).

A Mindef spokesman added that this application was denied.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, she also said that the player, who moved from Singapore to Britain in 2017 at the age of 13, is living abroad without a valid exit permit and "has committed offences under the Enlistment Act".

Under the act, national service (NS) is a mandatory conscription and duty that every male citizen and permanent resident must undertake upon attaining the age of 18. Birtwistle turns 18 in December.

"Mr Birtwistle's parents applied to renounce his Singapore citizenship," said the spokesman, adding the application was rejected "as renunciation should not be used as a means to evade NS (National Service) duties".

She added that in the family's correspondence with the ministry, "they had stated that Mr Birtwistle will not be registering for NS".

"Since then, Mr Birtwistle failed to register for NS as required. He is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit. Mr Birtwistle has committed offences under the Enlistment Act."

Birtwistle, whose father John is British and mother Rachel is Chinese Singaporean, was born in Singapore and lived here until he was 13. He moved to England to chase his dream of being an EPL player, signing a scholarship with Wolves shortly after his arrival in 2017.

The senior Birtwistle told ST that he had requested deferment from NS for Harry from 2017 with a likelihood of the teenager giving up his Singapore passport when he turned 21. But this was denied.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's website states that a Singapore citizen can only renounce his citizenship if he is aged 21 and above, is of sound mind and has acquired the citizenship of another country.

However, it adds that the Government may reject the renunciation by a male citizen if he has enjoyed citizenship privileges and has outstanding NS obligations.

Birtwistle senior said the preference for Harry to keep his British passport was because of strict work permit rules in England.

"Retaining his United Kingdom passport and British citizenship are essential to pursue a professional football career in the EPL, given the points-based work permit requirements applicable on all non-UK citizens, which were made even more stringent post-Brexit."

He explained that he had made the decisions as a father that "only wanted the best" for his son and stressed that "Harry himself has never wanted to renounce his citizenship nor intentionally skip NS".

Harry has "deep roots" in Singapore, he said, with his mother and his two young siblings still residing here, as well as extended family and friends. He has long wanted to represent the Singapore national team.

John said that both he and Rachel are "100 per cent in agreement and fully aligned" regarding their son's pursuit of an elite football career, despite divorcing in 2008.

He added that he and his ex-wife are "most grateful for the support shown from the Singapore public towards Harry in recent days" and hope that the focus will shift towards Birtwistle's football pursuits.

"Life is short and bittersweet for us all. Perhaps it's wise to focus on the positives which can hopefully influence others to strive for their goals and live their dream," he said.

Harry has featured mainly for Wolves' Under-23 team that plays in the Premier League 2, but has been training with Wolves' first team "about once or twice a week" since the season began in August.

Coached by Portuguese Bruno Lage, Wolves are 11th in the 20-team EPL after nine games.

Birtwistle's situation mirrors that of Ben Davis, another footballer playing professionally in England.

Davis, now 20, was born in Phuket to a Thai mother and an English father and moved to Singapore with his family at age five before becoming a citizen four years later.

Having represented Singapore at youth level, he was called up to the senior national team in March 2018 but did not earn a cap. In July that year, he signed professional terms with Fulham, where he had been on a scholarship for a year.

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Four months after the Lions call-up, he signed professional terms with Fulham, where he had been on a scholarship since July 2017, becoming the first Singaporean to do so with a top-tier English club. The following day, Mindef announced the rejection of his application for long-term deferment from NS.

In February 2019, Mindef confirmed that Davis did not report for NS as required and had thus defaulted on his NS commitments. It added that he is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit. As such, he is liable upon conviction to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both.

He later switched his international allegiance to Thailand, and in August signed for English third-tier side Oxford United.

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