British nationality law dictates the conditions under which a person is recognised as being a national of the United Kingdom. The six different classes of British nationality each have varying degrees of civil and political rights, due to the UK's historical status as a colonial empire. The primary class of British nationality is British citizenship, which is associated with the United Kingdom itself and the Crown dependencies. Foreign nationals may naturalize as British citizens after meeting a minimum residence requirement (usually five years) and acquiring settled status.
British nationals associated with a current British Overseas Territory are British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTCs). Almost all BOTCs (except for those from Akrotiri and Dhekelia) have also been British citizens since 2002. Individuals connected with former British colonies may hold residual forms of British nationality, which do not confer an automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom and generally may no longer be acquired. These residual nationalities are the statuses of British Overseas citizen, British subject, British National (Overseas) and British protected person.
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.
Some thought the single Imperial status of "British subject" was becoming increasingly inadequate to deal with a Commonwealth of 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 British subject would continue as a common status held by all Commonwealth citizens.
The British Nationality Act 1948 marked the first time that married British women gained independent nationality, regardless of the citizenship of their spouses. It 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 British law between the rights of CUKCs and other British subjects, all of whom had the right at any time to enter, live and work in the UK.
Independence acts, passed when colonies were granted independence, contained nationality provisions. In general, these provisions withdrew CUKC status from anyone who became a citizen of the newly independent country, unless the person 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 the Crown Colony of Penang and the Crown Colony of Malacca, which were made part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957; CUKC status was not withdrawn from CUKCs from Penang and Malacca even though they automatically acquired Malayan citizenship at the time of independence).
Between the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and the Immigration Act 1971, as a result of fears about increasing immigration by non-white Commonwealth citizens, the UK gradually tightened controls on immigration by British subjects from other parts of the Commonwealth. Following the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, citizens of Commonwealth countries who had been born, or whose parent of grandparent had been born, in the United Kingdom still retained CUKC as a dual-nationality. A 1964 amendment to the 1948 citizenship Act (titled the British Nationality Act 1964 ) ensured that those who had such a connection to the UK, but who had been, or were to be, required to renounce CUKC in order to obtain the citizenship of a Commonwealth country, were able to regain CUKC.
Many ethnic-Indians from former African colonies such as Kenya (which became independent in December, 1963) and Uganda (which became independent in October 1962), who had been permitted to retain CUKC under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 lest they be denied the citizenship of their new Commonwealth countries and be left stateless, began to move to the United Kingdom following independence, resulting in the rapid passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 (fully titled An Act to amend sections 1 and 2 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, and Schedule 1 to that Act, and to make further provision as to Commonwealth citizens landing in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid) to stop this migration. The Act removed the rights of free entry to, and abode and work in, the United Kingdom from those British Subjects who were not born in, or possessed of a qualifying connection to, the United Kingdom. This applied not only to Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies from Commonwealth countries, but also to those Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in the remaining colonies.
The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 made a number of changes to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, beginning with amending the definition of to whom the Act applied. By comparison:
Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962:
CONTROL OF IMMIGRATION
1.-(1) The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect for controlling the immigration into the United Kingdom of Commonwealth citizens to whom this section applies.
- (2) This section applies to any Commonwealth citizen not being-
- (a) a person born in the United Kingdom :
- (b) a person who holds a United Kingdom passport and is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or who holds such a passport issued in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland ; or (c) a person included in the passport of another person who is excepted under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of this subsection.
(3) In this section "passport" means a current passport ; and "United Kingdom passport" means a passport issued to the holder by the Government of the United Kingdom, not being a passport so issued on behalf of the Government of any part of the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom.
(4) This Part of this Act applies to British protected persons and citizens of the Republic of Ireland as it applies to Commonwealth citizens, and references therein to Commonwealth citizens, and to Commonwealth citizens to whom this section applies, shall be construed accordingly.
Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968:
1. In section 1 of the principal Act (application of Part I), in subsection (2)(b) after the words "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies" there shall be inserted the words "and fulfills the condition specified in subsection (2A) of this section", and after subsection (2) there shall be inserted the following subsection:-
- "(2A) The condition referred to in subsection (2)(b) of this section, in relation to a person, is that he, or at least one of his parents or grandparents,-
- (a) was born in the United Kingdom, or
- (b) is or was a person naturalised in the United Kingdom, or
- (c) became a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies by virtue of being adopted in the United Kingdom, or
- (d) became such a citizen by being registered under Part II of the British Nationality Act 1948 or under the British Nationality Act 1964, either in the United kingdom or in a country which, on the date on which he was so registered, was one of the countries mentioned in section 1(3) of the said Act of 1948 as it had effect on that date".
The Immigration Act 1971 (fully titled An Act to amend and replace the present immigration laws, to make certain related changes in the citizenship law and enable help to be given to those wishing to return abroad, and for purposes connected therewith) introduced the concept of patriality, by which only British subjects (i.e. CUKCs and Commonwealth citizens) with sufficiently strong links to the British Islands (e.g. being born in the islands or having a parent or a grandparent who was born there), or who had legally resided in the United Kingdom for five years, had right of abode, meaning they were exempt from immigration control and had the right to enter, live and work in the islands. The act, therefore, had de facto created two types of CUKCs: those with right of abode in the UK, and those without right of abode in the UK (who might or might not have right of abode in a Crown colony or another country). Despite differences in immigration status being created, there was no de jure difference between the two in a nationality context, as the 1948 Act still specified one tier of citizenship throughout the UK and its colonies. This changed in 1983, when the 1948 Act was replaced by a multi-tier nationality system.
The current principal British nationality law in force, since 1 January 1983, is the British Nationality Act 1981, which established the system of multiple categories of British nationality. To date, six tiers were created: 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, with the latter holding residual rights they had prior to 1983.
The stripping of birth rights from at least some of the colonial CUKCs in 1968 and 1971, and the change of their citizenships in 1983, actually revoked the rights irrevocably granted them by Royal Charters at the founding of the colonies. Bermuda (fully The Somers Isles or Islands of Bermuda), by example, had been settled by the London Company (which had been in occupation of the archipelago since the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture) in 1612, when it received its Third Royal Charter from King James I, amending the boundaries of the First Colony of Virginia far enough across the Atlantic to include Bermuda. The citizenship rights guaranteed to settlers by King James I in the original Royal Charter of the 10 April, 1606, thereby applied to Bermudians:
Alsoe wee doe, for us, our heires and successors, declare by theise presentes that all and everie the parsons being our subjects which shall dwell and inhabit within everie or anie of the saide severall Colonies and plantacions and everie of theire children which shall happen to be borne within the limitts and precincts of the said severall Colonies and plantacions shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunites within anie of our other dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and borne within this our realme of Englande or anie other of our saide dominions.
These rights were confirmed in the Royal Charter granted to the London Company's spin-off, the Company of the City of London for the Plantacion of The Somers Isles, in 1615 on Bermuda being separated from Virginia:
And wee doe for vs our heires and successors declare by these Pnts, that all and euery persons being our subjects which shall goe and inhabite wthin the said Somer Ilandes and every of their children and posterity which shall happen to bee borne within the limits thereof shall haue and enjoy all libertyes franchesies and immunities of free denizens and natural subjectes within any of our dominions to all intents and purposes, as if they had beene abiding and borne wthin this our Kingdome of England or in any other of our Dominions
Citizenship was granted irrevocably by Charles I. It was taken away, quite wrongly, by Parliament in surrender to the largely racist opposition to immigration at the time.
Aside from different categories of a nationality, the 1981 Act also ceased to recognise Commonwealth citizens as British subjects. There remain only two categories of people who are still British subjects: those who acquired British nationality through a connection with former British India (formerly known as British subjects without citizenship), 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 another citizenship.
In spite of the fact that the 1981 Act repealed most of the provisions of the 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 entered into force), so many of the provisions of the 1948 Act and subsequent independence acts are still relevant. Not taking this into account might lead 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 some cases, determining British nationality status requires an examination of several nationality acts in their original form.
As of January 2021, there are six classes of British nationality.
|Category||Active||British passport and
UK immigration control
|British Overseas Territories citizen|
|British Overseas citizen|
|British subject||only with right of abode|
|British National (Overseas)||[a]||[b]|
|British protected person|
The following two classes of British nationality are "active", meaning that they can be acquired by any eligible person at birth or by naturalisation or registration.
Persons who are British citizens usually hold this status through a connection with the British Islands (composed of the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man); the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; or, since 2002, one of the remaining British Overseas Territories (BOTs), except Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) who possessed right of abode under the Immigration Act 1971 through a connection with the UK and Islands generally became British citizens on 1 January 1983. This status was also retroactively extended to British Dependent Territories citizens with a connection to the Falkland Islands on 28 March 1983, while the remaining British Dependent Territories citizens who were not solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia acquired the status on 21 May 2002.
British citizenship is the most common type of British nationality, and the only one that bestows automatic right of abode in the UK.
Other rights can vary depending on how the British citizenship was acquired. In particular, there are restrictions for "British citizens by descent" when transmitting British citizenship to children born outside the British Islands. These restrictions do not apply to "British citizens otherwise than by descent".
BOTC (formerly BDTC) is the form of British nationality held through connection with any British Overseas Territory (BOT), other than Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands. A distinction is made between those born a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies before 1 January, 1983, and those born after. It is possible to hold BOTC and British citizenship simultaneously. Nearly all BOTCs are now also British citizens as a result of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.
The four residual categories are expected to lapse 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[vague] are allowed to be registered as British citizens as long as they hold no other citizenship or nationality.
In general, most BOCs are CUKCs who did not qualify for British citizenship or British Dependent Territories citizenship. Most derived their status as CUKCs from former colonies, such as Malaysia and Kenya, because of quirks and exceptions in the law that resulted in their retaining CUKC status in spite of the independence of their colonies. This is fairly uncommon: most CUKCs (including those from Malaysia and Kenya) lost their CUKC status upon independence.
In 1997, BDTCs with a connection to Hong Kong became BOCs if they did not register as British Nationals (Overseas) and would have become stateless after the withdrawal of BDTC status from Hong Kong residents.
British subjects (as defined in the 1981 Act) are British subjects who were not CUKCs or citizens of any other Commonwealth country. Most derived their status as British subjects from British India or the Republic of Ireland as they existed before 1949.
The status of BN(O) was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985 and the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Order 1986. BN(O)s are BDTCs with a connection to Hong Kong who applied for registration as BN(O)s before the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. Following the imposition of the Chinese national security legislation in Hong Kong, from 31 January 2021 BN(O)s are eligible to apply for a visa to live and work in the UK for 5 years, during which they will have unrestricted access to the British labour market except for sensitive roles involving British national security. They may also bring their dependents along with them, including adult children born on or after 1 July 1997 and their own spouses and children if they normally live with the applicant. BN(O)s on this route have no recourse to public funds for the initial 5 years. After 5 years of continuous stay in the UK they can apply for settled status, and then for citizenship a year thereafter.
BPPs derive from parts of the British Empire that were protectorates or protected states with nominally independent rulers under the "protection" of the British Crown, not officially part of the Crown's dominions. The status of BPP is sui generis – BPPs are not Commonwealth citizens ("British subjects", in the old sense) and were not traditionally considered British nationals, but are not aliens either.
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 base areas 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 by the Immigration Ordinance of Hong Kong) and are eligible for registration as British citizens if they hold no other nationality under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009; BSs and BPPs lose their statuses upon acquiring 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 the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
British Citizenship can be acquired in the following ways:
Information about British citizenship and other kinds of British nationality is available from Her Majesty's Government. Information is also available on provisions for reducing statelessness.
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 British Islands or a British Overseas Territory automatically; British citizens by descent can pass on citizenship to their non-UK born children only by meeting certain British residence requirements and registering them before the age of 18.
From 1 January 1983, a child born in the British Islands or the Falkland Islands to a parent who is a British citizen or "settled" in the British Islands or the Falkland Islands is automatically a British citizen by birth. This provision is extended to children born to such parents in any remaining 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 British Islands or a qualified British Overseas Territory.
Even if a child is born in the British Islands on or after 1 January 1983 but does not acquire British citizenship at birth, the child is considered a lawful resident in the UK and is not required to apply for leave to remain. The child, however, is subject to immigration control and the child's parent(s) can choose to apply to regularise the child's immigration status through the granting of leave to remain (for the same period as that held by the parent(s)). If the child leaves the British Islands, he/she must hold leave to enter or remain in order to return to the UK.
Between 1949 and 1982, birth in the British Islands or a Crown Colony was sufficient in itself to confer the status of Citizen of United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC), regardless of the parents' status, although only CUKCs with a connection to the British Islands (i.e. birth in the British Islands or has a British-born parent or grandparent) had right of abode in the UK after 1971 and would eventually become British citizens in 1983. CUKCs without a connection to the British Islands became either British Overseas Territories citizens or British Overseas citizens in 1983, depending on whether they had a connection to another BOT.
The only exception to this rule were children of diplomats and enemy aliens. This exception did not apply to most visiting forces, so, in general, children born in the British Islands before 1983 to visiting military personnel (e.g. US forces stationed in the UK) were CUKCs connected to the British Islands and would become British citizens in 1983, albeit as a second nationality.
"British citizenship by descent" is the category for children born outside the British Islands 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, Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands on or after 1 January 1983 (or outside another 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 child's 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.)
In 1979 the Home Office had begun to take quiet steps to address this gender discrimination by allowing British citizen mothers to register children born abroad at the local British consulate within one year of birth, just as British citizen fathers could. However, the change was without great publicity and was largely unnoticed, and in 2002, Parliament formalized the approach in law, by enacting amendments to the British Nationality Act 1981 allowing children who had been covered by the 1979 procedural change (because they were under 18 years old at that time) to register themselves at any point later in life. The class of eligible registrants was later expanded in 2009, and was upheld by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling.
Several laws also accorded a right of registration to children born of unmarried British citizen fathers.
Children born outside the British Islands before 1 January 1983 to a CUKC mother who became a British citizen on 1 January 1983 and a foreign father are not British citizens by birth, and neither are children born between 1 January 1983 to 1 July 2006 to a British citizen father and a foreign mother out of wedlock.
In the face of various concerns over gender equality, human rights, and treaty obligations, Parliament moved to act on these situations.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 inserted a section 4C into the British Nationality Act 1981 allowing for registration as a British citizen of any person born between 7 February 1961 and 1 January 1983 who would have become a CUKC if the British Nationality Act 1948 had provided for mothers to transmit citizenship in the same way that fathers could. The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 then expanded the earliest date of birth covered from 1961 to 1 January 1949, and elaborated in "a dense and at times impenetrable piece of drafting" on the section's approach, while also covering numerous additional and less common situations, and adding a good character requirement.
Registration through this method is performed with Form UKM. After approval, the registrant must attend a citizenship ceremony. Since 2010, there is no longer an application fee (of £540). Applicants do however still have to pay £80 for the citizenship ceremony.
From 6 April 2015, a child born out of wedlock before 1 July 2006 to a British father is entitled to register as a British citizen by descent under the Immigration Act 2014 using form UKF. Such child must also meet character requirements, pay relevant processing fees and attend a citizenship ceremony. However, if the applicant has a claim to register as a British citizen under other clauses of the British Nationality Act 1981, or has already acquired British citizenship after being legitimised, the application will be refused.
Alternatively, if already resident in the UK, these children may seek naturalisation as a British citizen, which gives transmissible British citizenship otherwise than by descent.
Under section 5 of the Ireland Act 1949, a person who was born in the territory of the future Republic of Ireland as a British subject, but who did not receive Irish citizenship under the Ireland Act's interpretation of either the 1922 Irish constitution or the 1935 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act (because he or she was no longer domiciled in the Republic on the day the constitution came into force and was not permanently resident there on the day of the 1935 law's enactment and was not otherwise registered as an Irish citizen) was deemed to be a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
As such, many of those individuals and some of the descendants in the Irish diaspora of an Irish person who left Ireland before 1922 (and who was also not resident in 1935) may both be registrable for Irish citizenship and be a British citizen, through either:
In some cases, British citizenship may be available to these descendants in the Irish diaspora when Irish citizenship registration is not, as in instances of failure of past generations to timely register in a local Irish consulate's Foreign Births Register before the 1986 changes to Irish nationality law and before births of later generations.
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 is British otherwise than by descent, which means they have the same status as those born or naturalised in the British Islands 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.
The applicant for naturalisation as a British citizen must provide two referees. One referee should be a professional person, who can be of any nationality. The other referee must normally have a British passport and be either a professional person or more than 25 years old. The official list of persons, who are considered as accepted professional referees, is very limited, but many other professions are usually accepted too.
Fees for naturalisation (including Citizenship ceremony fee) have been rising steadily faster than inflation;
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 British Islands 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 British Islands 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.
Special immigration rights for citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland have been abolished starting 1 January 2021 by an Act of Parliament dated 18 May 2020 as part of Brexit. The act doesn't detail the new immigration criteria for those people.
Because of section 2(1) of the Ireland Act 1949 (which states that the Republic of Ireland would not be treated as a foreign country for the purposes of British law), Irish citizens are exempt from these restrictions and are normally treated as "settled" in the British Islands immediately upon taking up residence. In March 2020, the British government published a draft law that protects Irish citizens' right to work and live in the British Islands following Brexit. The draft legislation says: 'An Irish citizen does not require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.'
Non-British children with an EEA or Swiss parent may be registered as British once the parent becomes "settled" in the British Islands 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 British Islands 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 holding a form of British nationality or having a connection to the British Islands are eligible. In general, language proficiency and knowledge requirements do not apply to applicants for registration.
BOTCs who acquired their citizenship after 21 May 2002 (except for those connected solely with the Akrotiri and Dhekelia) may request registration under section 4A of the 1981 Act without further conditions other than the good character requirement. Registration under section 4A grants citizenship otherwise than by descent. Those connected with Gibraltar may also elect to apply for registration under section 5 of the 1981 Act which grants citizenship by descent.
British nationals who are not British citizens (other than BOTCs solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia) have an entitlement for registration as British citizens under s4 of the 1981 Act provided the following requirements are met:
This confers citizenship otherwise than by descent.
However, BOTCs solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia are not eligible for registration and must apply for naturalization instead. Naturalization also grants citizenship otherwise than by descent.
Other cases where British nationals who are eligible to register without residency requirements are:
Other cases where non-British nationals may be entitled to registration (either as a matter of law or policy) include:
The Home Secretary can exercise discretion under section 3(1) of the 1981 Act and register any child as a British citizen even if they may not meet the formal criteria. Certain adopted children would also be registered under this provision if their adoptions were not made in accordance with the Hague Convention. Registration under section 3(1) confers citizenship otherwise than by descent if neither parent was a British citizen at the time of registration, or by descent if either parent was a British citizen at that time.
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 similar basis to those for British citizenship. The Home Secretary has delegated their powers to grant BOTC to the Governors of the Overseas Territories. Only in exceptional cases is a person naturalised as a BOTC by the Home Office in the UK.
It is unusual for a person to be able to acquire British Overseas citizenship, 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. It is also not possible for any person to acquire British National (Overseas) status as the registration period for such status had permanently ended on 31 December 1997.
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. This provision was extended to British Nationals (Overseas) in 2009.
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 naturalisation ceremony) are not recognised 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.
After the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 came into force British nationals could be deprived of their citizenship if and 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.
This was extended 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", or if nationality was obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact. 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 also to dual nationals who are British by birth. The Secretary of State may not deprive a person of British nationality, unless obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact, if they are satisfied that the order would make a person stateless.[a] This provision was modified by the Immigration Act 2014 so as not to require that a third country would actually grant nationality to a person; British nationality can be revoked if "the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory." The powers to strip citizenship were initially very rarely used. Between 2010 and 2015, 33 dual nationals had been deprived of their British citizenship. In the two years to 2013 six people were deprived of citizenship; then in 2013, 18 people were deprived, increasing to 23 in 2014. In 2017, over 40 people had been deprived as of July (at this time increased numbers of British citizens went to join "Islamic State" and then tried to return).
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. 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.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in 2018 that until then deprivation of nationality had been restricted to "terrorists who are a threat to the country", but that he intended to extend it to "those who are convicted of the most grave criminal offences". The acting director of Liberty responded "The home secretary is taking us down a very dangerous road. ... making our criminals someone else's problem is ... the government washing its hands of its responsibilities ... Banishment belongs in the dark ages."
There is also currently no restriction on having more than one valid British passport, whether that is of the same type (eg: to avoid travel difficulties consequent on having one of the passports bearing Israeli stamps) or of two different types (eg: to avail of more liberal entry requirements to Mexico or the US).
However, onerous rules apply to British protected persons and certain British subjects (that do not apply to British citizens). 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 recognise 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 British law.
A British subject who acquired foreign citizenship by naturalisation before 1949 was deemed to have lost their 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 1963 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. The UK only ratified Chapter 2 of the convention, though, meaning 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:
After the UK withdrew from the European Union (Brexit) in 2020, British nationals lost their citizenship of the European Union because the UK ceased to be a member state. However, the Brexit withdrawal agreement maintained some of those rights for some of the United Kingdom nationals in its Part Two (citizens' rights), particularly Title II (rights and obligations).
Before Brexit, British nationals who were "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes", namely:
were citizens of the European Union under European Union law and enjoyed rights of free movement and the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament until the UK left the EU in 2020. When in a non-EU country where there is no British embassy, British citizens had the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country. British citizens were able to live and work in any country within the EU as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
By virtue of a special provision in the UK's Accession Treaty, British citizens who were connected with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man (i.e. "Channel Islanders and Manxmen") never had the right to live in other European Union countries (except the Republic of Ireland through the long-established Common Travel Area) unless they had connections through descent or residence in the United Kingdom.
In 2017, British citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 187 countries and territories, ranking the British passport seventh in terms of travel freedom (tied with the Belgian, New Zealand, Switzerland and United States passports) according to the Henley visa restrictions index. Additionally, the World Tourism Organization also published a report on 15 January 2016 ranking the British passport first in the world (tied with Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Singapore) in terms of travel freedom, with a mobility index of 160 (out of 215 with no visa weighted by 1, visa on arrival weighted by 0.7, eVisa by 0.5, and traditional visa weighted by 0).[needs update]
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.
The British nationality is ranked eighth in Nationality Index (QNI). This index differs from the Visa Restrictions Index, which focuses on external factors including travel freedom. The QNI considers, in addition, to travel freedom on internal factors such as peace and stability, economic strength, and human development, as well.