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British Citizenship and naturalisation

British citizenship

British Nationality Act 1981 requires a successful applicant for British citizenship to show, among other things, that he or she is free from immigration restrictions. Technically, the requirement is set out in paragraph 2(c) of Schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981, which requires an applicant to show:

that he was not at any time in the period of twelve months so ending subject under the immigration laws to any restriction on the period for which he might remain in the United Kingdom

Citizens of EU and EEA countries and their family members were until 12 November 2015 able to qualify once they had possessed permanent residence for a 12 month period and met all the other requirements. Permanent residence is something that one acquires automatically by operation of law after five years of continuous exercise of EU law rights as a worker, self employed person, self sufficient person or student (or mix of any of these); there is no need to formally apply for it and it is not conferred or granted by the British authorities but by automatic operation of EU law.

To put it another way, just as a passport acts as evidence of nationality the holder already possessed, a permanent residence document is evidence of the pre-existing  right of permanent residence.

One the base of this there are different ways to become a British citizen. The most common is called ‘naturalisation’.

What is the naturalisation?

British naturalisation is the process by which you can apply to become a British citizen. For some countries you are not permitted to hold 2 nationalities so it is worth checking before you commence your application that you are eligible and what is likely impact of your current right to nationality of applying to become British.

You can apply for British citizenship by naturalisation if:

  • you’re 18 or over
  • you’re of good character, for example, you don’t have a serious or recent criminal record, and you haven’t tried to deceive the Home Office or been involved in immigration offences in the last 10 years
  • you’ll continue to live in the UK
  • you’ve met the knowledge of English and life in the UK requirements
  • you meet the residency requirement

And you must usually have:

  • lived in the UK for at least the 5 years before the date of your application
  • spent no more than 450 days outside the UK during those 5 years
  • spent no more than 90 days outside the UK in the last 12 months
  • had settlement (‘indefinite leave to remain’) in the UK for the last 12 months if you’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • had permanent residence status for the last 12 months if you’re a citizen of an EEA country - you need to provide a permanent residence document
  • not broken any immigration laws while in the UK

There are different requirements if your spouse or civil partner is a British citizen.

You can’t include any time spent in the UK when you’re exempt from immigration control (for example, as a diplomat or member of visiting armed forces) as part of the 5 years.

Children under 18

Registration as a British citizen is the most common route by which children under the age of 18 get their British citizenship. The requirements to meet are less than that of adults’ naturalisation as a British citizen. Some children when born in the UK, depending on the status of their parents at the time of their birth are automatically British and therefore do not need to go through the process of registration and can apply directly for a British passport.

The right to British citizenship as a child is also found within the British Nationality Act 1981 (BNA 1981) as is the right to naturalization as British citizen for adults. The most common applications for registration as a British citizen are done under section 1 and section 3 of the BNA 1981.

Section 1 of the BNA 1981 is for those who were born in the UK.  Section 3 of the BNA 1981 is used for children born outside the UK.

Automatic right to British citizenship

Born in the UK after 1983

A person born in the UK after 1 January 1983 and one of their parents was either a British citizen or settled here in the UK at the time of their birth or are members of the UK armed forces will automatically be a British citizen. There is no need to apply to register to be a British citizen.

The child will be considered a British citizen otherwise than by descent.

Adopted children

A child who is adopted in the UK and one or both adoptive parents are British citizens will also automatically be a British citizen otherwise than by descent on adoption and does not need to be registered.

Registration as a British citizen

There are several ways for children to become British citizens through registration. The most common routes have been described below.

Born in the UK after 1983 and one of your parents has become a British citizen or has settled status since your birth

A person born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 to non-British or non-settled parents can apply to be registered as a British citizen once one of their parents has become British or settled in the UK. In order to meet the criteria, an application would have to be made when the person is less than 18 years old.

Any person who has lived in the UK until they were 10 years old

A person born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and neither of their parents was a British citizen or settled at the time of their birth, can apply to register as a British citizen if they are under the age of 18. The general requirements are they must be:

  • 10 years old or older
  • Have lived in the UK until they were 10
  • If older than 10 years old, they must show that they are of “good character” for an explanation of what good character means, please see the detailed paragraph below.
  • They must not have spent more than 90 days outside the UK in each of the first 10 years of their life

Child whose parents are applying for British citizenship

Where one or both parents are applying for British citizenship they may apply for one or more children who are not automatically British at birth to be registered as British citizens as part of a “family application”.

Children in this category will be considered at the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s discretion and will usually be registered only if both the parents are granted or already hold British citizenship, or if one parent holds British citizenship and the other is settled in the UK

Other ways children become British citizens

Children of EEA nationals

Some children born in the UK to EEA and Swiss nationals will be British citizens automatically. However, changes in the law mean that different rules apply depending on when a child was born.

  • A child born in the UK before 2 October 2000 to an EEA national parent will be a British citizen if their parent was exercising EC Treaty rights at the time of birth i.e. working.
  • A child born in the UK between 2 October 2000 and 30 April 2006 to an EEA national parent will only be a British citizen if their parent had indefinite leave to remain in the UK at the time of the birth.
  • A child born in the UK to an EEA national after 30 April 2006, when the EEA Regulations 2006 came into force, will be a British citizen if their parent had been in the UK exercising EC Treaty rights in accordance with the EEA Regulations 2006 for more than 5 years or has indefinite leave to remain. The child of an EEA national who did not become a British citizen at birth may now have an entitlement to be registered as a British citizen under the British Nationality Act 1981, if their EEA national parent has since become “settled” here.

Any other child born to British or non-British parents

There are various other ways by which the Secretary of State for the Home Department might exercise discretion in circumstances not already described on this page. However, in considering any application not specifically covered above consideration will be given to:

  • The child’s connections with the UK
  • Where the child’s future is likely to lie
  • The parents’ views
  • The parents’ nationality and immigration status (it is normally expected that either both parents are British citizens or one parent a British citizen and the other parent settled in the UK)
  • Whether the child is of good character
  • The length of time the child has lived in the UK (normally at least 2 years residence particularly if the child is over the age of 13)
  • Any compelling circumstances such as a job offer or other opportunity which requires British citizenship.



Disclaimer: No material or information provided on this website should be construed as legal advice. Readers should always seek appropriate professional advice to resolve their Legal Matters.
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