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British nationality law is the law of the United Kingdom which concerns citizenship and other categories of British nationality. The law is complex due to the United Kingdom's historical status as an imperial power.
English law and Scots law have always distinguished between the Monarch's subjects and aliens, but British nationality law was uncodified until the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 codified existing common law and statute, with a few minor changes.
|British citizenship and
British nationality law
|Classes of British national
status and other status
Some thought the single Imperial status of British subject as increasingly inadequate to deal with a Commonwealth with independent member states. In 1948, the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed that each member would adopt a national citizenship (Canada had already done so), but that the existing status of the British subject would continue as a common status held by all Commonwealth citizens.
The British Nationality Act 1948 established the status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC), the national citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies on 1 January 1949. Until the early 1960s there was little difference, if any, in UK law between the rights of CUKCs and other British subjects, all of whom had the right at any time to enter and live in the UK.
Independence Acts, passed when the remaining colonies were granted independence, contained nationality provisions. In general, these provisions withdrew the status of CUKC from anyone who became citizens of the newly independent country, unless one had a connection with the UK or a remaining colony (e.g. through birth in the UK). Exceptions were sometimes made in cases where the colonies did not become independent. (Notable cases include Penang and Malacca, which were made part of the Federation of Malaya; and Hong Kong, which became part of the People's Republic of China: CUKC status was not withdrawn from CUKCs from Penang and Malacca, and a new British nationality status was created for Hong Kong.)
Between 1962 and 1971, as a result of fears about increasing immigration by Commonwealth citizens from Asia and Africa, the UK gradually tightened controls on immigration by British subjects from other parts of the Commonwealth. The Immigration Act 1971 introduced the concept of patriality, by which only British subjects with sufficiently strong links to the British Islands (i.e. the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) had right of abode, the right to live and work in the Islands.
The principal British nationality law now in force is the British Nationality Act 1981, which established the current system of multiple categories of British nationality, viz. British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens, British Overseas citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British subjects and British protected persons. Only British citizens and certain Commonwealth citizens have the automatic right of abode in the UK.
The 1981 Act ceased to recognise Commonwealth citizens as British subjects. There remain only two categories of people who are still British subjects: those (formerly known as British subjects without citizenship) who acquired British nationality through a connection with former British India, and those connected with the Republic of Ireland before 1949 who have made a declaration to retain British nationality. British subjects connected with former British India lose British nationality if they acquire any other.
In spite of the fact that the 1981 act repealed most of the provisions of 1948 act and the nationality clauses in subsequent independence acts, the acquisition of new categories of British nationality created by the 1981 act was often dependent on nationality status prior to 1 January 1983, the date the 1981 act came into effect, so many of the provisions of the 1948 act and subsequent independence acts are still relevant. Not taking this into account might lead one to the erroneous conclusion, for example, that the 1981 act's repeal of the nationality clauses in the Kenya Independence Act of 1963 restored British nationality to those who lost their CUKC status as a result of Kenya's independence in 1963. This is one of the reasons for the complexity of British nationality law; in complicated cases, determining British nationality status requires an examination of several nationality acts in their original form.
There are currently six classes of British nationality.
from UK diplomatic posts
|Immigration control exemption
and right of abode in the UK
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|British Overseas citizen|
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|British National (Overseas)|
|British protected person|
The four residual categories are expected to become extinct with the passage of time. They can be passed to children only in exceptional circumstances, e.g., if the child would otherwise be stateless. There is consequently little provision for the acquisition of these classes of nationality by people who do not already have them. To reduce de facto statelessness, most are allowed to be registered as British citizens provided holding no other citizenship or nationality.
Only the status of British citizen carries with it the right of abode in a certain country or territory (in this case the UK).
In practice, BOTCs (except those associated with the Sovereign bases in Cyprus) were granted full British citizenship in 2002; BN(O)s have right of abode or right to land in Hong Kong (note: not conferred by the status itself, but the Immigration Ordinance of Hong Kong) and are eligible for registration as British citizens if holding no other nationality under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009; BSs and BPPs lose their statuses upon acquisition of another nationality (except BSs connected with the Republic of Ireland) and so should be eligible for registration as British citizens under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
British Overseas citizens are unique in that their nationality status is not associated with a right of residence, and only certain types of BOCs are eligible to be registered as British citizens under Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
British Citizenship can be acquired in the following ways:
Persons acquiring citizenship by method (2) are called British citizens by descent; those acquiring citizenship by methods (1), (3) or (5) are called British citizens otherwise than by descent. British citizens by registration, method (4), may be either, depending on the circumstances. Only citizens otherwise than by descent can pass on their citizenship to their children born outside the UK or a British Overseas Territory automatically; British citizens by descent can pass on citizenship to their non-UK born children only by meeting certain UK residence requirements and registering them before the age of 18.
From 1 January 1983, a child born in the UK to a parent who is a British citizen or 'settled' in the UK is automatically a British citizen by birth. This provision is extended to children born to such parents on a British Overseas Territory other than Akrotiri and Dhekelia after 21 May 2002. Since 13 January 2010, a child born to a parent who is a member of the British Armed Forces at the time of birth also automatically acquires British citizenship if he or she was born in the UK or a qualified British Overseas Territory.
Even if a child born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 does not acquire British citizenship, he/she is considered a lawful resident in the UK and is not required to apply for leave to remain or leave to enter. However, he/she is subject to immigration control and needs to obtain limited leave to enter or remain, if neither parents are holding ILR, in order to return to the UK.
Between 1949 and 1982, birth in the UK or a Crown Colony was sufficient in itself to confer the status of Citizen of United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC) irrespective of the status of parents, although only CUKCs with a connection to the UK (i.e., birth in the UK or has a UK-born parent or grandparent) would have right of adobe in the UK after 1971 and would eventually become British citizens in 1983. CUKCs without a connection to the UK would become either British Overseas Territories citizens or British Overseas citizens in 1983 depending on whether they have a connection with another BOT.
The only exception to this rule were children of diplomats and enemy aliens. This exception, however, did not apply to most visiting forces, so, in general, children born in the UK before 1983 to visiting military personnel (e.g. US forces stationed in the UK) were CUKCs connected with UK and would become British citizens in 1983.
"British citizenship by descent" is the category for the children born outside the UK or an Overseas Territory to a British citizen. Rules for acquiring British citizenship by descent depend on when the person was born.
A child born outside the UK on or after 1 January 1983 (or outside a British Overseas Territory on or after 21 May 2002) automatically acquires British citizenship by descent if either parent is a British citizen otherwise than by descent at the time of the birth.
Before 1983, as a general rule CUKC status was transmitted automatically only for one generation, with registration in infancy possible for subsequent generations. Transmission was from the father only, and only if the parents were married. (See History of British nationality law.)
From 20 July 2009, the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 provides that a person born outside the UK to a British mother may be entitled to register as a British citizen by descent if that person was born before 1 January 1983. Before the 2009 changes, only persons born after 7 February 1961 and before 1 January 1983 were eligible for this provision that came into force in April 2003. However those with permanent resident status in the UK, or who are entitled to the right of abode, may prefer naturalisation as a British citizen, which gives transmissible British citizenship otherwise than by descent. Requirements for successful registration with form UKM are that the applicant be a child of a British mother born before 1983 and be of good character and attend a citizenship ceremony. As of 22 November 2010, there is no longer an application fee (of £540). Applicants do however still have to pay £80 for the citizenship ceremony.
There are two paths through which children of British mothers and children of British fathers born abroad before 1983 can acquire a passport, and the differences have a bearing on costs. Children of British mothers born before 1983 may require a nationality registration fee, which (as of 22 November 2010) is free (although they must pay £80 for a citizenship ceremony). They also must undergo a background check into their eligibility and be of "good character" and attend the citizenship ceremony.
A child adopted by a British citizen acquires British citizenship automatically only if:
In both cases, at least one adoptive parent must be a British citizen on the date of the adoption.
The requirements are different for persons adopted before 1983.
In all other cases, an application for registration of the child as a British citizen must be made before the child is 18. Usually this is granted provided the Secretary of State accepts the adoption is bona fide and the child would have been a British citizen if the natural child of the adopters. Usually the adoption must have taken place under the law of a 'designated country' (most developed nations along with some others are 'designated' for this purpose) and be recognised in the UK. This is the standard method for children adopted by British citizens permanently resident overseas to acquire British citizenship.
The cancellation or annulment of an adoption order does not cause loss of British citizenship acquired by that adoption.
British children adopted by non-British nationals do not lose British nationality, even if they acquire a foreign nationality as a result of the adoption.
Any person who obtains British nationality by this method are British otherwise than by descent, which means they have the same status as those born or naturalised in the UK and can pass on British nationality to their children.
Naturalisation as a British citizen is at the discretion of the Home Secretary, who may grant British citizenship to anyone they "think fit". Although the Home Office sets down official requirements for naturalisation they may waive any of them, or may refuse citizenship to a person even if they meet all of the requirements. However, applications for naturalisation are normally granted if the requirements are met.
The requirements for naturalisation as a British citizen depend on whether or not one is the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen.
For those married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, the applicant must:
Those applying for British citizenship in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man (where the application is mainly based on residence in the Crown Dependencies rather than the UK) do not have to sit the Life in the UK Test. In the Isle of Man, there is a Life in the Isle of Man Test, consisting of certain questions taken from the Life in the UK Test syllabus and certain questions taken from a separate syllabus relating to matters specific to the Isle of Man. In due course it is expected that Regulations will be introduced to that effect in the Channel Islands. The provisions for proving knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic remain unchanged until that date for applicants in the Crown Dependencies. In the rare cases where an applicant is able to apply for naturalisation from outside the United Kingdom, a paper version of the Life in the UK Test may be available at a British diplomatic mission.
As of 11 February 2009[update], wait times for naturalisation applications were reportedly up to 6 months. The UK Border Agency stated that this was occurring because of the widespread changes proposed to the immigration laws expected to take effect in late 2009.
Fees for naturalisation (including Citizenship ceremony fee) have been rising steadily at the rate faster than inflation; in 2013 the fee was £874 for single applications, £1,550 for joint application for husband and wife or civil partners living together if applying at the same time. In 2015 the fee for a single applicant increased to £1005.
The immigration status for citizens of European Economic Area states and Switzerland has changed since 1983. This is important in terms of eligibility for naturalisation, and whether the UK-born child of such a person is a British citizen.
In general, before 2 October 2000, any EEA citizen exercising Treaty rights in the United Kingdom was deemed "settled" in the United Kingdom. Hence a child born to that person in the United Kingdom would normally be a British citizen by birth.
The Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations provided that with only a few exceptions, citizens of EU and European Economic Area states were not generally considered "settled" in the UK unless they applied for and obtained permanent residency. This is relevant in terms of eligibility to apply for naturalisation or obtaining British citizenship for UK born children (born on or after 2 October 2000).
On 30 April 2006, the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 came into force, with citizens of EEA states and Switzerland automatically acquiring permanent residence after 5 years' residence in the UK exercising Treaty rights.
Children born in the UK to EEA/Swiss parents are normally British citizens automatically if at least one parent has been exercising Treaty rights for five years. If the parents have lived in the UK for less than five years when the child is born, the child may be registered as British under section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act once the parents complete five years' residence.
Children born between 2 October 2000 and 29 April 2006 may be registered as British citizens as soon as one parent has completed five years' residence exercising Treaty rights in the UK.
Irish citizens, because of the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland, are exempt from these restrictions and are normally treated as "settled" in the UK immediately upon taking up residence.
Non-British children with an EEA or Swiss parent may be registered as British once the parent becomes "settled" in the UK under the terms of the Immigration Regulations dealing with EEA citizens.
A separate entitlement exists for any such UK-born child registered as British if they live in the UK until age 10, regardless of their or their parent's immigration status.
Registration is a simpler method of acquiring citizenship than naturalisation, but only certain people are eligible.
British nationals (other than British citizens) who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or right of abode, are eligible for British citizenship by registration after five years' residence in the United Kingdom. This is an entitlement under s4 of the 1981 Act (section 4 registration).
Other cases where persons may be entitled to registration (either as a matter of law or policy) include:
The British Nationality Act 1981 contains provisions for acquisition and loss of British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) (renamed British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) in 2002) on a broadly similar basis to those for British citizenship. The Home Secretary has delegated his powers to grant BOTC to the Governors of the Overseas Territories. Only in exceptional cases is a person registered or naturalised as a BOTC by the Home Office in the UK.
On 21 May 2002, any BOTC who did not hold British citizenship (except those from the Sovereign Base Areas) automatically acquired it under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. Those who acquired BOTC through naturalisation or registration after that date are entitled to register as British citizens under s4A of the 1981 Act.
It is unusual for a person to be able to acquire British Overseas citizenship, British National (Overseas), British subject or British protected person status. They are not generally transmissible by descent, nor are they open to acquisition by registration, except for certain instances to prevent statelessness.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 granted British Overseas Citizens, British Subjects and British Protected Persons the right to register as British citizens if they have no other citizenship or nationality and have not after 4 July 2002 renounced, voluntarily relinquished or lost through action or inaction any citizenship or nationality. Previously such persons would have not had the right of abode in any country, and would have thus been de facto stateless. Despite strong resistance from senior officials at the Home Office, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said on 3 July 2002 that this would "right a historic wrong" that left stateless tens of thousands of Asian people who had worked closely with British colonial administrations.
British Overseas citizenship is generally held by persons connected with former British colonies and who did not lose their British Nationality upon the independence of those colonies.
After the withdrawal of BDTC status from all BDTCs by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong on 30 June 1997, most of them are now either British Nationals (Overseas) and/or British citizens (with or without nationality of China), or Chinese nationals only. The remaining few became British Overseas citizens.
Before the handover in 1997, former BDTCs from Hong Kong had been able to acquire British citizenship under legislation passed in 1990, 1996 and 1997. In other cases, certain persons may already hold British citizenship as a matter of entitlement or through registration under normal procedures.
Although it is no longer possible to acquire British National (Overseas) status after 31 December 1997, stateless children born to such parents are entitled to British Overseas citizenship and can subsequently apply to register as British citizens under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Since 2009, BN(O)s without other nationalities or citizenship are able to register as British citizens under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 as well.
British citizens and BN(O)s who are of full or partial Chinese descent are also Chinese nationals under Chinese law unless they have renounced their Chinese nationality with the Hong Kong SAR Government. As China does not recognise multiple nationality, those persons are considered by China as solely Chinese nationals before and after the handover of Hong Kong and hence are not eligible for consular protection when on Chinese soil. Although holding the same nationality under the Chinese nationality law, Chinese nationals with a connection to Hong Kong or Macau have been categorised differently from Chinese nationals domiciled in Mainland China.
In February 2006, in response to extensive representations made by Lord Avebury and Tameem Ebrahim, British authorities announced that 600 British citizenship applications of ethnic minority children of Indian descent from Hong Kong were wrongly refused. The applications dated from the period July 1997 onwards. Where applicants in such cases confirm that they still wish to receive British citizenship, the decision is reconsidered on request. No additional fee is required in such cases. A template to request reconsideration is available for those who want a prior application reconsidered.
Approximately 800,000 persons born before 1949 and connected with the Republic of Ireland remain entitled to claim British subject status under section 31 of the 1981 Act.
Eligible descendants from the Electress Sophia of Hanover may hold British Overseas citizenship based on their status as British subjects before 1949. Where such a person acquired a right of abode in the UK before 1983, it is possible for British citizenship to have been acquired. See also History of British nationality law and Sophia Naturalization Act 1705.
All categories of British nationality can be renounced by a declaration made to the Home Secretary. A person ceases to be a British national on the date the Home Secretary registers the declaration of renunciation. If a declaration is registered in the expectation of acquiring another citizenship but one is not acquired within six months of the registration, it does not take effect and the person remains a British national.
Renunciations made to other authorities (such as the general renunciation made as part of the US naturalization ceremony) are not recognized by the UK. The forms must be sent through the UK Border Agency's citizenship renunciation process. There are provisions for the resumption of British citizenship or British overseas territories citizenship renounced for the purpose of gaining or retaining another citizenship. This can generally only be done once as a matter of entitlement. Further opportunities to resume British citizenship are discretionary.
British subjects, British Overseas citizens and British Nationals (Overseas) cannot resume their British nationality after renunciation.
British subjects (other than British subjects by virtue of a connection with the Republic of Ireland) and British protected persons lose British nationality upon acquiring any other form of nationality.
Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, people with dual nationality who are British nationals can be deprived of their British citizenship if the Secretary of State is satisfied that "deprivation is conducive to the public good"; there is a right of appeal. This provision has been in force since 16 June 2006 when the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006 (Commencement No 1) Order 2006 came into force. Loss of British nationality in this way applies to people born in the UK as British citizens and who also hold another nationality. As the provision applies only to dual nationals, its application cannot render a person stateless.
The Home Office does not issue information on these cases and is resistant to answering questions, for example under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. As of 15 July 2013[update] at least 17 people had been deprived of their British citizenship, in most cases on the recommendation of MI5. It appears that the government usually waits until the person has left Britain, then sends a warning notice to their British home and signs a deprivation order a day or two later. Appeals are heard at the highly secretive Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), where the government can submit evidence that cannot be seen or challenged by the appellant.
Previously since 2003 under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, British nationals could be deprived of their citizenship only if the Secretary of State was satisfied they were responsible for acts seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or an Overseas Territory.
British nationals who are naturalised or registered may lose British nationality if it was obtained by fraud or concealment of a material fact. The nationality laws of the US, Canada and Australia have similar provisions to revoke local nationality from citizens who gained such citizenship via naturalisation.
Visa requirements for British citizens are administrative entry restrictions by the authorities of other states placed on citizens of the United Kingdom. In 2014, British citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 175 countries and territories, the same as for American, Finnish, German and Swedish citizens and more than for any other citizens.
Visa requirements for other classes of British nationals such as British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, British Protected Persons or British Subjects are different.
Since the British Nationality Act of 1948, there is in general no restriction in UK law on a British national holding citizenship of other countries.
Different rules apply to British protected persons and certain British subjects. A person who is a British subject other than by connection with the Republic of Ireland loses that status on acquiring any other nationality or citizenship, and a British protected person ceases to be such on acquiring any other nationality or citizenship. Although British Overseas citizens are not subject to loss of citizenship, British Overseas citizens may lose an entitlement to register as a British citizen under s4B of the 1981 Act if they acquire any other citizenship.
A number of other countries do not allow Multiple citizenship. If a person has British nationality and is also a national of a country that does not allow dual nationality, the authorities of that country may regard the person as having lost that nationality or may refuse to recognize the British nationality. British nationals who acquire the nationality of a country that does not allow dual nationality may be required by the other country to renounce British nationality to retain the other citizenship. None of this affects a person's national status under UK law.
A British subject who acquired foreign citizenship by naturalisation before 1949 were deemed to have lost his or her British subject status at the time. No specific provisions were made in the 1948 legislation for such former British subjects to acquire or otherwise resume British nationality, and hence such a person would not be a British citizen today. However, women who lost British nationality on marriage to a foreign man before 1949 were deemed to have reacquired British subject status immediately before the coming into force of the 1948 act.
The UK is a signatory to the Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality (1963 Strasbourg Convention). Chapter 1 requires that persons naturalised by another European member country automatically forfeit their original nationality but the UK ratified only Chapter 2, so the convention does not limit the ability of British citizens to become dual citizens of other European countries.
From 1 January 2004, all new applicants for British citizenship by naturalisation or registration aged 18 or over if their application is successful must attend a citizenship ceremony and either make an affirmation or take an oath of allegiance to the monarch, and make a pledge to the UK.
Citizenship ceremonies are normally organised by:
Persons from the Republic of Ireland born before 1949 reclaiming British subject status under section 31 of the 1981 Act do not need to attend a citizenship ceremony. If such a person subsequently applies for British citizenship by registration or naturalisation, attendance at a ceremony is required.
For those who applied for British citizenship before 2004:
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British nationals who are "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes", namely:
By virtue of a special provision in the UK Accession Treaty, British citizens who are connected with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man (i.e. "Channel Islanders and Manxmen") do not have the right to live in other European Union countries (except the Republic of Ireland through the long-established Common Travel Area) unless they have connections through descent or residence in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office Research and Statistics Division publishes an annual report with statistics on grants of British citizenship broken down by type and former nationality. Since 2003, the report has also included research on take-up rates for British citizenship.