Everything you NEED to know about British Citizenship by Birth in 2019

The question of whether you are a British citizen by birth is governed by the British Nationality Act 1981. It is dependent on when and where you were born, as well as some other circumstances. 

We can outline these categories as:

  • If you were born before 1st January 1983 in the UK or a British colony.
  • If you were born before 1st January 1983 outside the UK.
  • If you were born between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006 inside the UK.
  • If you were born between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006 outside the UK.
  • If you were born on or after 1st July 2006.
  • If you were born on or after 1st July 2006.

We will discuss below whether or not you are classed as a British citizenship by birth in the above circumstances. 

Why does this even matter?  Because if you or your children are already British, you should not make the mistake of making an unnecessary and  expensive application for registration or naturalisation.  You can apply for a British passport or letter confirming your citizenship straight away.


#1 If you were born before 1st January 1983 in the UK or a British Colony

The General Rule

You are British if you were born in the UK before 1st January 1983

Example: Robert was born in the UK on 31st December 1982, to Dutch parents.  As the requirement is simply birth within the UK (despite his parents ancestry), Robert is a British citizen by birth.  He can apply for a British passport, or a letter confirming his citizenship.  There is no requirement for registration as a British citizen or completing any lengthy forms.


#2 If you were born before 1st January 1983 outside the UK

The General Rule

You are British if:

Your father was born in the UK or your father ‘registered’ or ‘naturalised’ as a British citizen prior to your birth

AND

You were born in wedlock or your parents later married in a country where marriage ‘legitimises’ your birth

A few notes that are important:

  • Only a father who is British can automatically pass British citizenship to his child.
  • British mothers who gave birth to children outside the UK do not impart the same rights on to those children.  The children of British mothers would have to submit an application to ‘register’ as British citizens.
  • People who are not British, but can submit an application to become British are said to ‘register’ as citizens.
  • The legal act of a non-British person becoming British is called ‘naturalisation’.


CASE STUDIES

a) My father was born in the UK I was born in wedlock

You are British by birth.

You are entitled to apply for a UK passport or apply for confirmation of your British nationality.

Example: Helen was born in Malaysia in 1973.  Since her father was married at the time of her birth, and was born in England in 1942 – Helen was born British.  Helen can simply apply for a British passport if she wants to.


b) My father was born in the UK but I was born out of wedlock

If your parents were never married, then you were not born British. But, due to the amendments in Section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (Sections 4E-4I), you can ‘register’ as a British citizen with application Form UKF.

If after your birth, your parents get married in a country in which your birth becomes ‘legitimised’ by their marriage, then you are born British. If you aren’t certain of the law of the country in which you were married, you should ask said country’s embassy for clarification.

Example 1: Samantha was born in South Africa in 1978 (prior to 1983).  She was born out of wedlock, but her father was born in the UK.  Accordingly, Samantha is not born British and cannot apply for a British passport. But, Section 4F – 4I of the British Nationality Act 1981, now allow for Samantha to ‘register’ as a British citizen like those whose parents were married at birth.

Example 2: Ashley, like Samantha, was born in South Africa in 1978.  She was also born out of wedlock and her father was also born in the UK. But, Ashley’s parents married 3 years later in a country which ‘legitimised’ the birth of Ashley and she is therefore considered born British.  She does not have to apply to ‘register’ as a British citizen and can simply apply for a British passport.


c) My father was not born in the UK but registered/naturalised as a British citizen in the UK before I was born

You are British by birth if your parents were married at the time of your birth, or married after your birth in a country where your birth would be ‘legitimised’ by their marriage, then you will be British.  If you are not sure about the laws of the country in which you were born, contact their embassy.


d) My mother was born in the UK and my father was born out of the UK

You are not British by birth.  This was an unfair law and a remnant of old fashioned thinking.  Accordingly, it was amended by Section 4C of the British Nationality Act 1981 and you can now register as a British citizen, if your parents did not register you as a child.

Example: Umar was born in Canada in 1979 (before 1983).  Umar’s mother was born in Scotland, and his father was born in Canada.  Umar is not British by birth but can apply to register as a British citizen.


e) My mother was not born in the UK but registered/naturalised as a British citizen in the UK before or after I was born

You are not British by birth. Yes, this is very sexist!  But, you can apply to register as a British citizen by descent if you did not do this before you turned 18.  One of the requirements of the application is that you are of ‘good character’.


f) My father was not born in the UK but registered/naturalised as a British citizen in the UK after I was born

You are not British by birth.


#3 If you were born between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006 inside the UK

The General Rule

You are British if, when you are born, your mother or father is either:

A British citizen

OR

Settled whilst inside the UK

a) My father was a British citizen/had ILR/had Permanent Residence under EU law, at the time of my birth.

You are British by birth.

Section 1(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 says:

A person born in the United Kingdom after commencement, or in a qualifying territory on or after the appointed day, shall be a British citizen if at the time of the birth his father or mother is–

(a) a British citizen; or
(b) settled in the United Kingdom or that territory


b) My mother was a British citizen/had Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)/had Permanent Residence under EU law, at the time of my birth.

You are British by birth.


c) My father became a British citizen after my birth and I was born in wedlock

If you are still under 18, then you can register as a British citizen (otherwise than by descent) under Section 1(3) and 1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981.


d) My biological father was a British citizen/had ILR/had permanent residence under the EU law, at the time of my birth and I was born out of wedlock

If after your birth, your parents were married in a country which ‘legitimises’ you, you will be treated as if you were British by birth.

If your parents never married each other, then you are not classed as British by birth.  However, under Section 4G of the British Nationality Act 1981, you can register as a British citizen by applying with Form UKF.


e) I was found abandoned at birth in the UK (on or after 1st January 1983)

It will be presumed that at least one of your parents was a British citizen or settled in the UK at the time of your birth. Therefore, you will be British by birth.


#4 If you were born between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006 outside the UK

a) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981.


b) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ after being registered/naturalised as a British citizen before I was born

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Unfortunately, you are not British by birth if your mother became British after your birth.


c) My mother had ILR or Permanent Residence under EU laws, at the time of my birth

You are not British by birth.  If you are born outside the UK, the law requires that your mother be British for you to also be British by birth.


d) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth and I was born in wedlock

You are British by birth under section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981.


e) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ having registered/naturalised as a British citizen before my birth, and I was born in wedlock

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981. 

Unfortunately, you are not British by birth if your father became British after you were born.


f) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth but my (natural) father and mother were not married

You are not British by birth under section 2(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981. However, if your parents later married in a country which ‘legitimises’ you, you will be accepted as British by birth. 

If they never married (or married in a country which ‘legitimises’ you), you can register as a British citizen under Section 4G of the 1981 Act and apply with Form UKF.


g) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ after registering/naturalising as a British citizen before my birth, but I was born out of wedlock

You are not British by birth.  However, you can register as a  British citizen under Section 4G of the British Nationality Act 1981.

If your parents later marry in a country which ‘legitimises’ your birth, you will be accepted as being British by birth.


#5 If you were born on or after 1st July 2006 inside the UK

The General Rule

You are a British citizen, if when you were born, your mother or father is

A British Citizen

OR

Settled in the UK

a) My mother was a British citizen at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.

You are not British by birth if your mother became British after you were born.


b) My mother had ILR/Permanent Residence under EU law at the time of my birth

You are not British by birth.  The law requires that your mother is British to transfer her nationality to you during this period.


c) My mother’s husband was British at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.  As you can see by the above wording, your mother’s husband does not require to be your biological father.  The law states that if your mother was married at the time of your birth, her husband is defined as your father, rather than your actual biological father. A bit complicated, we know!


d) My biological father was a British citizen, but at the time of my birth my non-British mother was married to a non-British person

You are not British by birth, for the reasons given in c) above. The pertinent legal definition of ‘father’ here is your mother’s husband at the time of your birth.

This is an obviously unfair consequence of this law.  In a case such as this, you have the option to register (as a child) as a British citizen under Section 3(1) of the 1981 Act.  Although, you are relying on the Home Office to use their discretion rather than adhere to the law, such applications are usually successful under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


e) My biological father was British at the time of my birth, but my mother and father were not married.  My mother was also not married to anyone else at the time of my birth

You are British by birth, only if you can prove paternity.  You do not require to register as a British citizen.


#6 If you were born on or after 1st July outside the UK

The General Rule

You are a British citizen automatically in two situations:

Situation 1

Either parent or both parents are

British citizens otherwise than by descent; and
They are British by birth in the UK

Situation 2

Either parent or both parents are British citizens otherwise than by descent; and
They registered/naturalised as a British citizen prior to your birth

a) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


b) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ having been registered/naturalised as a British citizen prior to my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.

However, if your mother became British after you were born, you are not classed as having been born British.


c) My mother had ILR/Permanent Residence under EU laws at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


d) My mother’s husband was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under Section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


e) My mother’s husband was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ having been registered/naturalised as a British citizen, at the time of my birth

You are British by birth under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.

Unfortunately, you are not British by birth if your mother’s husband became British after you were born.


f) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth

If your parents later marry in a country which ‘legitimises’ your birth, you will be accepted as being British by birth.

However, if they never marry, you will not be British by birth.  But, you may register as a British citizen under Section 4G of the 1981 Act.

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