British citizenship: Applying for a UK passport
To obtain a UK passport, you first need to be a British citizen. There are three ways to become British:
- Automatic acquisition of British citizenship at birth.
- Citizenship by registration.
- Citizenship by naturalisation.
The UK does not operate a system of “birth-right” citizenship. Being born in the UK does not automatically lead to British citizenship. Since 1 January 1983, it has been necessary for at least one parent of a child born in the UK to be British or settled in the UK. This type of citizenship is known as citizenship “otherwise than by descent”.
British citizens who were born in the UK can normally pass their citizenship down to one generation born abroad. This type of citizenship is known as “citizenship by descent”.
The UK’s British nationality laws have historically been discriminatory against various categories of people. It was not until 1 July 2006 that children could claim citizenship through an unmarried father.
An area of particular complexity relates to children born in the UK before 1 October 2000 to EEA citizens. Whether or not the child is British will normally depend on whether at least one parent was “exercising Treaty Rights” at the time of the child’s birth.
If you are unsure whether you or your children are already British citizens through automatic acquisition, our experienced lawyers can consult with you and advise on your particular circumstances.
Citizenship by registration - children
Some people will not be born British, but will have a legal entitlement to be registered as British citizens. Citizenship by registration is commonly used by children under the age of 18 who were:
- born in the UK and one of their parents became settled or acquired British citizenship some time afterwards;
- born in the UK and have lived continuously in the UK for 10 years since birth (this specific route is also open to adults);
- born outside the UK to a British by descent parent who had lived in the UK for at least three years before the child was born;
- born outside the UK to a British by descent parent and have since then lived in the UK for at least three years with both parents; or
- not born in the UK but may be entitled to British citizenship under the Home Secretary’s policy for registering children at discretion. Discretionary registration is complex and encompasses a variety of scenarios, such as adoption or children applying for citizenship at the same time as their parents.
This is not a finite list. If you think your child has a claim to British citizenship, please contact our team. We can arrange a paid consultation with you to assess your child’s circumstances and confirm their citizenship entitlements to you.
Citizenship by registration – adults
Registration as a British citizen is also open to some categories of adults. This is because British nationality law has historically discriminated against certain categories of people, namely women and “illegitimate children” born out of wedlock to unmarried fathers.
Adults may be able to register as British citizens if they:
- were born outside the UK before 1 January 1983 to a UK-born British citizen mother;
- were born outside the UK and Commonwealth before 1 January 1983 to a non-UK born British citizen mother;
- have a UK-born paternal grandfather and their parents married before 1 January 1949; or
- were born before 1 July 2006 to an unmarried British father.
Again, this is not a finite list. If you believe you may qualify for registration as a British citizen by descent or ancestry or because of historic gender discrimination, arrange a consultation with a member of our team.
Citizenship by naturalisation
What is naturalisation?
“Naturalisation” is the name of the process by which a foreign adult acquires a new citizenship. Naturalisation is probably the most common way in which adults become British citizens.
General naturalisation requirements
All applicants must demonstrate they:
- are over 18 years old;
- are of good character and sound mind;
- have sufficient knowledge of English language and have passed a Life in the UK Test;
- have not broken any immigration laws;
- intend to make the UK their principal home (unless married to a British citizen);
- have spent less than 90 days outside of the UK in the last 12 months; and
- have been free from immigration controls for at least 12 months (unless married to a British citizen).
Residence requirements for naturalisation
All applicants must demonstrate they:
- have lived in the UK for at least five years before the date of application; and
- have spent less than 450 days outside the UK during the five year period.
Spouses and civil partners of British citizens benefit from reduced periods of residence requirements.
All applicants must demonstrate they:
- have lived in the UK for at least three years before the date of application; and
- have spent fewer than 270 days outside the UK during the three years.
In certain cases, it is possible for applicants who have been absent from the UK or longer periods of time to qualify.
The Home Office fee for naturalisation is currently £1,330 plus a £19.20 biometric enrolment fee.
Please note that naturalisation fees tend to increase on an annual basis coinciding with the new financial year, although recently they have remained static.
How long does the neutralisation process take?
Naturalisation applications cannot be expedited and the current standard processing time for such cases to be considered by the Home Office is six months, although in our experience processing time can often be shorter.
Naturalisation application process
The application process is now fully digital with applicants being required to make their application online and then attend a UKVCAS (UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service) service point to enrol their biometrics. The application is then passed to the Home Office Nationality Department to process.
After a successful applicant is advised that their application for naturalisation has been approved, they must attend a citizenship ceremony at which they will be presented with a naturalisation certificate. Only once this ceremony is complete will a successful applicant become a British citizen. After this is done, the certificate is used to apply for a new British passport.
The benefits of naturalisation
- Being a British citizen gives you the right to vote. For many EU nationals, not being able to vote in either the EU referendum or the recent general elections has been a cause of concern.
- Holding a British passport enables the UK to provide consular assistance abroad.
- Obtaining British citizenship now can be an insurance policy against future changes to the law and the costs and procedure of applying.
- Obtaining British citizenship can be a wise move for international families. Indefinite leave to remain can be lost if you stay outside the UK for two years or more. Families with global plans should consider naturalisation because citizenship cannot be lost through absences, unlike indefinite leave to remain status.
How can Shepherd and Wedderburn immigration experts help with obtaining British citizenship?
John Vassiliou has particular expertise in British nationality law. He was the lead solicitor in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court case of Romein, which opened the door to registration of those born outside the UK and Commonwealth before 1 January 1983 to a non-UK born British citizen mother. John has dealt with a wide variety of unusual or complex citizenship scenarios and has written extensively on the subject. He has participated in Home Office-led stakeholder consultations in relation to nationality legislation.
Our specialist immigration team is experienced in helping clients secure British citizenship. We also pride ourselves in our fast turnaround times to ensure that our clients can achieve their goals without delay.
If you have any questions about UK citizenship, please get in touch with our immigration experts by completing the form below.