British Citizenship

Since 1983, children born in the UK will only become British citizens if one of their parents is either a British citizen, settled in the UK or a member of the armed forces. In addition, children born in an overseas territory will also acquire citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen or settled in the UK or that territory at the time of their birth. A person will be ‘settled’ if ordinarily resident without being subject to any restriction on the period for which he may remain under immigration laws.

Where the parents of a child born in the UK become settled after the child’s birth, the child has an automatic right to be registered but this application must be made while the child is still a minor. A person may also register as a British citizen at any time if they have been born in the UK and have not been out of the country for more than 90 days in each of the first ten years of their life regardless of the lawfulness of their residence. There is also a general discretion for the Secretary of State to register as a British citizen any British overseas territory citizen and those who would otherwise be stateless.

A child who is adopted either in any UK court or since 2002 in any court in a British overseas territory or under the Hague Convention since 2003, automatically acquired British citizenship where one of the adoptive parents in a British citizen at the time of the adoption and in the case of a Convention adoption, both adopters (if married) are habitually resident in the UK.

Where a child is born outside the UK they will only automatically become British citizens from birth if either parent was a British citizen otherwise than by descent at the time of their birth or was in Crown or similar designated service. Citizenship by descent is also complemented by a scheme of registration. The main general criteria for discretionary registration are that the child’s future should clearly be seen to lie in the UK, that there are close connections to the UK and for those aged 13 years or more, that they have lived in the UK for two years.

British citizenship may also be obtained by applying for naturalisation. For spouses/ civil partners the applicant must have been resident for three years without absence for more than 270 days whereas for other cases the period is five years without absence for more than 450 days. There is a discretion to waive excess absences and residence in breach of immigration laws.  An applicant must also be free from any restrictions on their length of stay in the UK. For non- spouse/civil partner cases there must also be an intention to live principally in the UK or work for the Crown or UK-based company. EU nationals must have acquired a permanent right of residence. All applicants must show that they are of good character. Persons sentenced to custodial sentences in excess of 30 months are not normally granted citizenship. Sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish and of life in Britain is also a requirement for naturalisation applications.

Applications for registration and naturalisation as a British citizen require specified fees to be paid.

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