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British Citizenship and Nationality

Applying for British Citizenship

If you are settled (have Indefinite Leave to Remain - ILR or, in the case of European (EU) nationals, permanent residence) in the UK then you can stay here without any time limit, whatever your nationality. You do not have to become a British citizen. However, many people who have made the UK their permanent home wish to apply for British citizenship.

There are now three main ways to become a British citizen. The first is to be born one. The second is to be registered as one and the third is to be naturalised as one. In addition, there are circumstances in which a person who was not born a British citizen automatically becomes one, without the need to be registered, naturalised or apply for British Citizenship. For example, this can happen in certain circumstances here a child is adopted by British citizen parents.

Whether or not you were born a British citizen depends on a combination of where and when you were born and the nationality of your parents. British nationality law is one of the most complicated in the world, in part because of Britain's history and historical relationship with other countries in the world. In some cases it will be necessary to go back several generations to identify whether you are a British citizen or are entitled to apply for British citizenship.

Applying for Naturalisation as a British Citizen

Naturalisation is the most common way for adults who were not born British to become British. People who have ILR or permanent residency can, subject to fulfilling residence requirements, apply for naturalisation to become British citizens. It is necessary to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the English language and of Life in the UK, and to be of good character. Knowledge of English and Life in the UK is formally tested, good character entails meeting specific requirements, the most important of which relate to the applicant's criminal record. Naturalisation takes place at a public ceremony.

Although significant changes to the process for acquiring citizenship were announced by the then UK government in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the changes were not implemented and the current Secretary of State for the Home Department has since announced that these provisions will not now become law.


Registration is the only way in which children can become British and is also used for adults in special circumstances when applying for British Citizenship. It is necessary for those over ten years old to be of good character, but it is not necessary to demonstrate knowledge of the English language or of Life in the UK. One example of the use of registration is to address problems created by discrimination in the past. For example, it is now possible for people born abroad to British mothers before 1 January 1983 to register as British. At the time when they were born, only British fathers could pass on their nationality to children born abroad. This bar was removed in 1983, but the effects of the historically different treatment still remain for people born abroad to British mothers before 1 January 1983.

Although elements of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 have not been implemented, some changes to the categories of people eligible for registration, notably the children of serving members of the armed forces, British Nationals (Overseas) who have no other citizenship and the children of British mothers, whenever they were born, were made; these took effect on 13 January 2010.

Different British Nationalities

To complicate matters further, there are many forms of British nationality in addition to British citizenship, mostly as a legacy from the Empire. These include, British overseas territories citizens, British subjects, British nationals (overseas), British overseas citizens and British protected persons. Unlike British citizenship, these other forms of British nationality will not normally provide a right to live in the UK, although they may be a step on the road to becoming a British citizen and also broaden the opportunities to make immigration applications, for example applications based on UK ancestry.

Gherson has a specialist nationality team and is proud of its reputation in this specialist area of law. Contact us to discuss your requirements and find out how to apply for British citizenship.

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For advice on immigration, nationality, extradition or human rights, please contact us now.

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