British nationality law was completely overhauled by the British Nationality Act 1948, to bring British nationality law in line with the fact that the British Empire had evolved into a Commonwealth of equal nations: the UK (including its remaining colonies), Canada, Australia, etc. Under the 1948 Act, a new British nationality was created for the UK and its remaining colonies. It was called ‘citizenship of the UK & Colonies” and we refer to those who had this citizenship as “CUKCs”.
British nationality law was then further overhauled by the British Nationality Act 1981 (“the Act”) which came into force on 1 January 1983, creating three British nationalities in place of “citizenship of the UK & Colonies”:
- British citizenship, for the CUKCs most closely connected to the UK;
- British Dependent Territories citizenship (later renamed British overseas territories citizenship) for the CUKCs most closely connected to a remaining British colony; and
- British Overseas citizenship, for any remaining CUKCs.
In 2002, the UK finally gave up on the idea of a second class British nationality for people from the remaining British colonies (renamed ‘overseas territories’). This was achieved by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 which effectively extended British citizenship to all the remaining British colonies, save for the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus (British military bases in Cyprus, which constitute a British colony because they stands on land that the British retained when the island of Cyprus ceased to be a British colony and was granted independence). Instead of referring to “all the remaining British overseas territories except for the SBAs of Cyprus”, the 2002 Act simply defined these places as “the qualifying territories”. The 2002 Act amended the 1981 Act by inserting this definition of “qualifying territories” and by amending references to “the UK” to read “the UK and qualifying territories”. So a person born in particular circumstances in “the UK or a qualifying territory” now becomes a British citizen at birth.
Also, the 1981 Act as amended by the 2002 Act effectively provides that if an individual was born in the UK or a qualifying territory before 1 January 1983 then in most cases that individual would be a British citizen following the commencement of the 2002 Act.
Regarding these individuals (i.e. those born in the UK or a qualifying territory before 1983), the law in force at the time of their birth (i.e. the 1948 Act) provided that there are only two cases in which the individual would not have been born British: firstly, if your father was a diplomat working for a non-UK country, or, secondly, if your father was ‘an enemy alien in occupation’ (although this only applies to people born in the Channel Islands during World War 2).
Which CUKCs became British citizens in 1983?
Under section 11 of the 1981 Act, a person automatically became a British citizen on 1 January 1983 if immediately before that date he or she:
- Was a CUKC (citizen of the UK and Colonies); and
- Had the right of abode in the UK under section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 (as in force at the time).
Section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 as in force prior to 1983 described various links with the UK (e.g. ancestry) strong enough to confer the right of abode on a CUKC. Section as in force from 1 January 1983 now states that a person has the right of abode in the UK if he is a British citizen, or he is a Commonwealth citizen who immediately before the commencement of the Nationality Act 1981 was a Commonwealth citizen having the right to abode in the UK and has not ceased to be a Commonwealth citizen in the meanwhile.
Who became a British citizen in 2002?
A person became a British overseas territories citizen on 1 January 1983 if they were born before 1 January 1983 and:
- they were a citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) on 31 December 1982; and
- they had connections with a British overseas territory because they, their parents or their grandparents were born, registered or naturalised in that British overseas territory.
If both the above conditions applied, then you became a British overseas citizen (or ‘BOC’), however you would still have been subject to UK immigration controls, meaning you did not have any right to live or work in the UK and you were not ‘a UK national’ for the purposes of European Union (EU) law.
Then when the 2002 Act came into force, all BOCs additionally became British citizens (including the right of abode in the UK) so long as they were not BOCs exclusively because of a connection with the SBAs of Cyprus. These new British citizens are also EU citizens for the purposes of EU law.
Gherson has over 30 years of experience in dealing with complex nationality matters. If you have any questions or queries in relation to British nationality matters, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.