Naturalization and Citizenship in the United Kingdom

Naturalization is the acquisition of British citizenship by someone who held ,or continues to hold, foreign citizenship. There are several routes to naturalization. Adults may qualify for British citizenship through at least five years of residence in the UK, or through marriage to a British citizen (with three years’ residence in the UK as a spouse or civil partner).

In addition to residency requirements, naturalizing citizens must meet requirements of ‘good character’, ability to communicate in English , or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, and ‘knowledge of life in the UK. Children may qualify for either automatic or discretionary “registration” as British citizens depending on the country of their birth and nationalities of their parents. Home Office administrative data counts citizenship grants of each of these types. Though registrations are not technically naturalization, at least in Home Office classifications, they are included with naturalization in this briefing.

Home Office data include information on refusals of citizenship applications, including those refused because of a failure to demonstrate language proficiency or knowledge of life in the UK.

In 2014, 125,800 foreign citizens naturalized as British citizens. This was a 40% decline from 2013, when citizenship grants reached almost 208,000, the largest annual number since records began in 1962. From 2009 to 2013, citizenship grants averaged 195,800 per year.

According to the Home Office (2014), the 2013 peak in citizenship grants followed an increase in applications in advance of changes to language requirements, while lower numbers of grants in 2014 were at least in part due to the shifting of resources from UK Visas and Immigration to HM Passport Office. Lower numbers of citizenship applications are also consistent with recent decreases in grants of settlement (from 241,200 in 2010 to 129,800 in 2012 and 154,700 in 2013), which will have reduced the pool of people newly eligible to apply for citizenship.

Naturalization for workers, businessmen, investors

If you are not married to a British Citizen you will need to meet the following requirements to apply for naturalization on the basis of your work, business or investment in the UK:

  • You must be aged 18 or over
  • You must be of sound mind
  • You must be of good character
  • You should be able to communicate in the English language (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic). There are exemptions to this requirement, for example if you are elderly or mentally handicapped
  • You must pass a test confirming your knowledge of the above mentioned languages and knowledge of life in the UK
  • You should intend to live in the UK or in Crown Service abroad (working directly for an UK Government organization), or be employed by an international organization of which the UK is a member, or be employed by a company or association established in the United Kingdom (and not just use a British passport as means visa-free travel overseas or employment in EU)

The following are additional requirements that must be met in order for you to qualify for naturalization on the basis of 6 year residence:

  • You must have been living in the UK exactly five years before the date the application reaches the Home Office
  • During the six-year period you must not have been outside the United Kingdom for more than 450 days (about 15 months)
  • During the last 12 months of the six-year period you must not have been outside the UK for more than 90 days
  • During the last 12 months of the six-year period your stay in the United Kingdom you must have held permanent residence/ indefinite leave to remain (ILR)
  • You must not have been living in the United Kingdom in breach of the UK immigration rules at any time during the five-year period ending with the date that the application is received by the Home Office.

Naturalization for EEA and Swiss citizens

EEA and Swiss nationals now need to separately apply for and be issued with a UK Permanent Residence Card before they can apply for Naturalization. This requirement was brought by the UK BA in November 2015.

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