Personal Immigration

Do you have a claim to British citizenship?

There are several benefits to British citizenship, including the right to live and work in the UK without express permission and, very often, more generous provisions regarding entry to and residence in other countries. A good place to start with any immigration enquiry can often be to consider whether there is a potential claim to British citizenship. The answer may be a straightforward “Yes” or “No”; however for many people the answer can be much more complex.

This article provides a brief overview of some potential routes to British citizenship. As ever, whether an individual can benefit from any of these routes will depend on many things, including the available evidence. It is also worth remembering that nationality law is complex and precise; many terms have meanings in nationality law which are very different from everyday usage.

Automatic citizenship at birth

By birth in a relevant territory (This is also known as jus soli and is based on the assumption that the place of a person’s birth is more important than their family history)

Anyone born in the United Kingdom before 1 January 1983 will automatically have become a British citizen on that date, regardless of their parent’s nationality or immigration status, unless they had previously renounced their status as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC) or British subjects. They can only lose their status as British citizens in limited circumstances, for example if they take active steps to renounce it or have been deprived of it by the Secretary of State under statutory powers.

A person born outside what is now the United Kingdom before 1 January 1983, but in what was at the time part of the United Kingdom and Colonies have been born as a CUKC. Most such people will have lost that status on the independence of the relevant country; however many people either retained their original status or, having lost it nevertheless became British citizens on 1 January 1983. Each case requires careful analysis.

An individual born in the United Kingdom on or after 1 January 1983 will not be a British citizen unless one or both of their parents is either a British citizen or settled in the United Kingdom (as defined by the law, not by the parent concerned). The situation of children born to unmarried parents where only the father was a British citizen or settled in the United Kingdom has evolved over time and since 1 July 2006 the marital status of the parents has been irrelevant. The precise circumstances of children born between 1 January 1983 and 30 June 2006 may need to be closely examined before their status becomes clear.

By birth to a relevant parent (This is also known as jus sanguinis and is based on the assumption that a person’s family history is more important than their place of birth)

Individuals born outside the United Kingdom from 1 January 1983 may be British citizens if one or other of their parents is also a British citizen (not just settled in the United Kingdom); subject to the basis on which the relevant parent became a British citizen. This is known as British citizenship by descent. The individual will not be a British citizen if the relevant parent is also a British citizen by descent; although they are able to register as a British citizen in some circumstances. Again, the marital status of the parents can be an issue.

Right to be registered as a British citizen

Some people have a right to be registered as a British citizen if they are of good character and an application is made before the relevant time limit expires (usually on their 18th birthday) including:

  • Children born in the United Kingdom after 1 January 1983 who are not automatically British, if one of their parents subsequently becomes a British citizen or becomes settled in the United Kingdom. The application must be made while they are still a child;
  • Those born in the United Kingdom after 1 January 1983 who are not automatically British if they lived in the United Kingdom for each of the first 10 years of their life (absences of no more than 90 days in each year are permitted). The application can be made at any time after the 10th birthday (and can therefore be made by adults as well as children);
  • Children born outside the UK to a parent who was a British citizen by descent if that parent had been in the UK for a continuous period of three years at any time prior to the birth (absences of up to 270 days in total are permitted) subject to the citizenship states of that parent’s mother or father. The application must be made while they are still a child;
  • Children born outside the UK to a parent who was a British citizen by descent if for the three years immediately before the date of application that child and both of the child’s parents have been in the UK (absences of up to 270 days in total for each person are permitted), subject to the consent of both parents. The application must be made while they are still a child;
  • Some people born outside the UK before 1 January 1983 who would have become a CUKCs had British nationality law at the time provided for citizenship to pass from mothers in the same was as from fathers. These applications can only be made by adults.

Discretionary applications

Some people who do not have a right to be registered as a British citizen may nevertheless apply for registration or naturalisation under a statutory discretion (those who are 10 or over must be of good character) including:

  • Any child, wherever born and wherever living, may apply to be registered as a British citizen (although the vast majority of the billions of potential applications would be entirely without any prospect of success);
  • Any British Overseas Territories citizen may apply to be registered as a British citizen (again, careful consideration should be given to the merits of any proposed application before it is submitted);
  • An adult who is settled in the UK (e.g. who has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK or has acquired a right of permanent residence in the UK) and married to a British citizen is able to apply for naturalisation if they have lived in the UK for 3 years (some absences are permitted) and meet other essential requirements;
  • Other settled adults are able to apply for naturalisation at least a year after settlement if they have lived in the UK for 5 years (which in practice usually means a minimum of 6 years after first arrival – again some absences are permitted).

Contact Us

If you would like further advice regarding a potential claim to British Citizenship, please contact our specialist nationality and citizenship immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or by email to  info@richmondchambers.com

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