British Citizenship Requirements in 2019 [Naturalisation and Registration]

The British Citizenship requirements in 2019 are:

  • You must be aged 18 years or over;
  • You must intend to settle down in the UK;
  • You must meet the residence requirement;
  • You must meet the English language requirement;
  • You must meet the knowledge of life in the UK requirement; and
  • You must meet the ‘good character’ requirement

The above are requirements for those who want to acquire British citizenship by a process called ‘Naturalisation‘.

There will be different requirements if you want to apply for ‘Registration as a British Citizen‘, which we also will cover below.

Obviously, if you are already British, the above requirements do not apply and you only have to apply for a British passport!

We discuss the situations in which you will be a British citizen in our guide here.

Let’s examine each requirement in further detail below.


Naturalisation Requirements

REQUIREMENT 1

You must be aged 18 years or over

You cannot naturalise as a British citizen if you are under 18 years old. However, you can ‘register’ to become a British citizen if you are under 18 in certain circumstances.


REQUIREMENT 2

You must intend to settle down in the UK

This is self-explanatory – you must intend to reside in the UK after applying for citizenship.


REQUIREMENT 3

You must meet the residence requirement

#1 If you are applying as a spouse of a British citizen

i) You require to have been in the UK for 3 years prior to the date of application

Schedule 1, paragraph 3(a) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…that he was in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the period of 3 years ending with the date of the application”

ii) You must not have been absent from the UK for greater than 270 days in the last 3 years of residing in the UK

Schedule 1, paragraph 3(b) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“that the number of days on which he was absent from the United Kingdom in that period does not exceed 270”

iii) You must not have been absent from the UK for greater than 90 days in the last 12 months of residing in the UK

Schedule 1, paragraph 3(b) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…the number of days on which he was absent from the United Kingdom in the period of twelve months so ending does not exceed 90”

iv) You must be settled in the UK at the date of application

This differs to those not applying as spouses, who require to have been settled in the UK for at least 12 months prior to submitting their application for citizenship.

If you are an EEA national, you should obtain settled status prior to making your citizenship application.

v) Your residence in the last 3 years prior to the date of application must have been legal

Schedule 1, paragraph 3(d) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…that he was not at any time in the period of three years ending with the date of application in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws”

According to the Home Office Nationality policy guidance you are legally resident if:

  • you are in the UK on a visa which gives you permission to enter and remain in the UK, and it has not expired; or
  • you are in the UK with a ‘right of abode’; or
  • you are in the UK as a citizen of the Republic of Ireland who arrived in the UK on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland; or
  • you are an EEA national exercising your Treaty rights; or
  • you are a crew member of a ship or plane
  • you left a ship, aircraft or train at a UK port but were still in the immigration area and were given temporary admission.

If at any point in the 3 years, your stay in the UK became illegal than you must restart the 3 years period in order to apply for citizenship.


#2 If you are NOT applying as a spouse of a British citizen

i) You require to have been in the UK for 5 years prior to the date of application

Schedule 1, paragraph 2(a) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims

“that the applicant was in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the period of five years ending with the date of application”

ii) You must not have been absent from the UK for greater than 450 days in the last 5 years of residing in the UK

Schedule 1, paragraph 2(a) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…the number of days on which he was absent from the United Kingdom in that period does not exceed 450”

iii) You must not have been absent from the UK for greater than 90 days in the last 12 months of residing in the UK

Schedule 1, paragraph 2(b) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…the number of days on which he was absent from the United Kingdom in the period of twelve months so ending does not exceed 90”

iv) You must have been settled in the UK for at least 12 months prior to the date of application

Settled means that you had indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence/settled status.

If you are an EEA national, you should obtain settled status prior to making your citizenship application. The correct date is when you obtained permanent residence or settled status, not when you received the document confirming it to be so.

v) Your residence in the last 5 years prior to the date of application must have been legal

Schedule 1, paragraph 3(d) of the British Nationality Act 1981 proclaims:

“…that he was not at any time in the period of five years ending with the date of application in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws”

According to the Home Office Nationality policy guidance, you are legally resident if:

  • you are in the UK on a visa which gives you permission to enter and remain in the UK, and it has not expired; or
  • you are in the UK with a ‘right of abode’; or
  • you are in the UK as a citizen of the Republic of Ireland who arrived in the UK on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland; or
  • you are an EEA national exercising your Treaty rights; or
  • you are a crew member of a ship or plane
  • you left a ship, aircraft or train at a UK port but were still in the immigration area and were given temporary admission.

If at any point in the 5 years, your stay in the UK became illegal than you must restart the 5 years period in order to apply for citizenship.


REQUIREMENT 4

You must meet the English language requirement

If you met this requirement for an application made after 28th October 2013, you do not need to meet it again.

If you did not, then there are 4 different ways you can meet this requirement:

i) You are exempt if you are over the age of 65, and you may also be exempt if you suffer from a long term medical condition.

In certain circumstances, those under the age of 65 years do not have to meet the English language requirement if it is deemed unreasonable to expect a person of that age to meet it. This is regulated by Schedule 1, paragraph 2(1)(e) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

If you suffer from a long term medical condition, be it physical or mental, and that condition stops you from meeting the English language requirement in any way, then you must submit evidence to this effect when you submit your application.

Evidence can include this medical exemption form by the Home Office or a letter from a medic.

ii) If you are a national of a majority English-speaking country then you automatically meet the English language requirement

Majority English-speaking countries are classed as follows:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, The United States of America

You are still required to sit the Life in the UK Test if you are a national of one of these countries.

iii) If you have a Bachelor’s/Master’s degree or a PhD that was taught in English then you meet the English language requirement

If you obtained your degree from a university in the UK, then you must simply submit your degree certificate – you do not require any evidence from NARIC.

If you obtained your degree from a university outside the UK, then you must request evidence from NARIC confirming the degree was taught or researched in English and that it is the equivalent of a UK qualification.

iv) If you do not meet the English language requirement in any of the aforementioned ways, you must pass a speaking and listening English test at Level B1 or above of the Common European Framework for Reference for Language (CEFR)

The two most common English language test providers are Trinity College London and IELTS SELT Consortium. A list of approved tests can be found at Appendix O of the Immigration Rules. The test can only be taken at a Home Office approved test centre.


REQUIREMENT 5

You must meet the knowledge of life in the UK requirement

This is known as the Life in the UK test (or British Citizenship test).  It has been condemned as a needlessly bureaucratic exercise which is unrealistic in regards to the type of questions which are asked; many of which even home grown Brits would not know the answer to!

It is taken on the computer and lasts for 45 minutes.  It is based on material contained within ‘Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Resident’s handbook’.

If you are aged under 18 years, or aged over 65 years then you do not have to take the test. You also do not need to take the test if you suffer from a long term medical condition which prevents you from taking the test and you provide the evidence to support this.


REQUIREMENT 6

You must meet the ‘good character’ requirement

If you have never had any encounters with the law, have always met the Immigration Rules and do not have a troubled financial history, then more than likely you will be deemed to have been of good character.

However, if you have committed a crime in the past then you may still be able to apply for citizenship – you may just need to wait a certain period of time.

Not meeting the good character requirement is one of the most common reasons for refusal, so it would be beneficial to do some research in to it if you think you have been in trouble before.


Registration as a British Citizen

Registration as a British Citizen is available for those who do not automatically obtain British citizenship by birth or law.  In certain circumstances you may register as a British citizen.

The British Nationality Act 1981 (the 1981 Act), governs the process of registration and the circumstances in which you may register.

Registration applications are most often made by children, and a lot of categories of registration can only be made prior to turning 18 years old.

Adults can register too if the law allows. One of the most likely scenarios is when and adult who would have been born British could not due to discriminatory laws being in place when they were born.

If you are an adult at the time of registration then you will need to take part in a citizenship ceremony and take an oath of allegiance.

Registration of Children as British Citizens (h3)

You can register a child as a British citizen in the following scenarios:

#1 If a child was born in the UK and the child’s parent becomes British or obtains ILR or PR after the child is born

Section 1(3) of the 1981 Act permits children to register as British citizens if:

  • they were born in the UK on 1st January 1983 or after; and
  • when they were born they were not British due to none of the parents being British or settled in the UK; and
  • one of the parents becomes British or settled in the UK prior to the child becoming an adult; and
  • they are under 18 at the time the application is made.

Section 1(3A) of the 1981 Act permits children to register as British citizens if:

  • they were born in the UK on 13th January 2010 or after; and
  • they are the child of someone who becomes a member of the armed forces; and
  • they are under the age of 18 at the time the application is made.

These types of applications are made on Form MN1.

Example: Madison was born in the UK in 2005 to a French mother and Polish father. Her mother was not settled in the UK and her parents were unmarried, which means that Madison was not automatically born British. If either Madison’s mother or father become settled in the UK after 5 years residence in the UK under EU law then she can be registered as British prior to turning 18.


#2 If a child is born out with the UK to a British ‘by descent’ parent

Section 3(2) of the 1981 Act permits children to register as British citizens if:

  • they were born out with the UK to a British ‘by descent’ parent; and
  • if said parent resided in the UK for 3 continuous years before the child was born; and
  • that parent was not absent from the UK for more than 270 days in that 3 year period; and
  • the application is made before the child turns 18 years old.

A child registered under this section will become British ‘by descent’.

Alternatively, section 3(5) of the 1981 Act permits a child to register as a British citizen if:

  • the child was born out with the UK to a British ‘by descent’ parent; and
  • if the child and both parents have lived in the UK for 3 continuous years after the child was born; and
  • the child and parents were not absent from the UK for more than 270 days in that 3 year period; and
  • the application is made before the child turns 18 years old.

A child registered under this section will be a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’.  This citizenship status is much more desirable as it allows you to transfer your British citizenship to any children born outside the UK.

This kind of application would be made on Form MN1.

Example: Lolita is born in Singapore in July 2018. Her mother is a British citizen by descent and her father is Singaporean. Her mother came to the UK to study and stayed in the UK between 2009 and 2017. Lolita can apply to register as a British citizen by descent under section 3(2) of the 1981 Act.

Example 2: Michael is born in May 2018 in Japan.  His mother is a British citizen by descent and his father is Japanese. His mother was born in Japan and was raised there. She only ever returned to the UK for short holidays to visit. Michael’s parents would now like to move to the UK.  They will not be able to register him as a British citizen under the 1981 Act and he and his father will need to apply for leave to remain in the UK.  If they reside in the UK for 3 years prior to Michael turning 18 years old, then he would be able to register as a British citizen under section 3(5) of the 1981 Act.


#3 Discretion of the Home Office can be used to register a child

Section 3(1) of the 1981 Act allows any child to registered as a British citizen under the discretion of the Home Secretary.

Registration of Both Children and Adults

You can register both children and adults in the following scenarios.

#1 If you were born illegitimate before 1st July 2006 to an unmarried father

Section 4F of the 1981 Act was introduced to correct previous laws which discriminated on the basis of gender.

Prior to 1st July 2006, children born outside marriage were unable to inherit British citizenship from their father (except if their father married their mother after they were born).

Section 4F allowed children born prior to 1st July 2006 in this position to register as British citizens. The registration application would be made on Form UKF.

Example: Anna was born in the UK in 1987 to a Dutch mother and British father who were not married. Her parents split up after Anna was born. Her mother was not settled in the UK when Anna was born. Anna was educated in the UK and has lived here her whole life.  As her parents were unmarried when she was born, Anna was not a British citizen by birth.  However, Anna can now register as a British citizen under section 4F of the 1981 Act.


#2 If you were born out with the UK prior to 1983 to a British citizen mother

Section 4C of the 1981 Act was similarly introduced to correct previous laws which discriminated on the basis of gender.

Before 1st January 1983, a child could not inherit British citizenship from their mother if they were born abroad. Citizenship could only be passed down by males.

Section 4C allowed children born prior to 1st January 1983 outside the UK to a British mother to register as British citizens.  The registration application would be made on Form UKM.

Example: Keira was born in South Africa in 1975. Her father was South African and her mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’. Keira was not automatically a British citizen by birth but is now able to register as a British citizen under section 4C of the 1981 Act.


#3 If you were born out with the UK to a parent serving in the UK armed forces

Section 4D of the 1981 Act allowed you to register as a British citizen if you were born out with the UK on 13th January 2010 onwards and one or both of your parents were serving in the armed forces.

The registration application would be made on Form MN1.


#4 If you were born stateless

Schedule 2 of the 1981 Act deals with if you were born stateless.  ‘Statelessness’ is when you are unable to claim the nationality of any country.

Schedule 2, paragraph 3 states that if you were born in the UK (or a British overseas territory) on 1st January 1983 onwards, you may register as a British citizen if:

  • you were stateless at birth and that continues to be your status;
  • you are less than 22 years old at the date of application;
  • you were present in the UK (or a British overseas territory) at the beginning of the period of years directly prior to the date of application; and
  • you were not absent from the UK (or British overseas territory) for more than 450 days within those 5 years.

If you spent longer in a British overseas territory than in the UK, then you can only be registered as a British overseas territory citizen instead of a British citizen.

Schedule 2, paragraph 4 states that if you were born out with the UK on 1st January 1983 onwards, you may register as a British citizen if:

  • you were stateless at birth and that continues to be your status;
  • one of your parents was a British citizen, a British overseas territories citizen, a British Overseas citizen, or a British subject at the time of your birth;
  • you were present in the UK (or a British overseas territory) at the beginning of the period of 3 years directly prior to the date of application; and
  • you were not absent from the UK (or British overseas territory) for more than 270 days within those 3 years.

You will obtain the type of British citizenship that your parent had.

If you were born stateless prior to 1st January 1983, the rules can be quite complicated and we will not discuss them here. Schedule 2, paragraph 5 can provide further clarity on this.


#5 If you were born in the UK and spent your first 10 years here

Section 1(4) of the 1981 Act allows adults and children alike to register as British citizens if:

  • they were born in the UK on 1st January 1983 onwards; and
  • they were not automatically British at birth due to neither parent being settled or a British citizen at the time of their birth; and
  • were over 10 years old at the date of application; and
  • resided in the UK from birth until at least 10 years old; and
  • they were not absent from the UK for more than 90 days in every year of the 10 year period.

There is a discretion on longer absences which is detailed in section 1(7) of the 1981 Act. The registration application would be made on Form T. Adults pay slightly more fees than children do in this case.

Example: Petra was born in the UK in 2008. Her parents were both Chinese and were not settled at the time of her birth.   They have lived in the UK for over 10 years, and are still neither settled nor British citizens. Petra was sent to China for a year in 2009. She returned to the UK and did not have any absences subsequently. Petra cannot register as a British citizen under section 1(4) because she was absent from the UK for more than 90 days in 2009. Discretion would not be exercised in this case as Petra was sent to China and remained there upon this wish of her parents.

Example 2: Scenario is as above, however Petra has never left the UK.  She would therefore be eligible to register as a British citizen under section 1(4) of the 1981 Act.

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