British Citizenship and Nationality Applications

There are many categories of British nationals, each with a different set of rights and entitlements. For those born outside of the UK, it can be difficult to demonstrate that they are a British national by descent.

A legal definition of ‘British nationality’ is provided in the British Nationality Act 1981 (“BNA 1981”). This definition takes into consideration the individual’s date and place of birth and descent.
Different types of British nationals are defined in the BNA 1981:

Under the Immigration Act 1971, certain British citizens/subjects can live and work in the UK without being subject to immigration control. This occurs when the individual has obtained citizenship by birth, descent, registration or naturalisation.

British CitizenshipBefore the BNA came into force, individuals born in the UK before 01 January 1983 were considered to be British citizens by birth. After this date, if a child is born in the UK to a parent who is a British citizen or a settled person, the child will become a British citizen automatically.

If a child is born abroad to parents who are British citizens, they will acquire British citizenship status by descent. If a second generation of children is born abroad, they will not acquire it automatically. However, the parents can register the child as a British citizen within 12 months of the child being born, provided that the British citizen parent spent three or more years in the UK before the birth or the date of application.


Individuals over 18 with indefinite leave to enter or remain or no time limit on their stay, who have also been living in the United Kingdom for the last five years (or three years if married/a civil partner to a British citizen), can submit an application for naturalisation as a British citizen.

An application for naturalisation may also be made if a person’s husband, wife or civil partner is in either crown or designated service outside the United Kingdom.

To be eligible for naturalisation, the individual must prove that they have sufficient knowledge of language and life in the UK; they must also demonstrate that they are of good character. This can be achieved by taking a test on “life in the UK” or by undertaking an ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) course.

Good Character Requirements

The good character requirements apply to anyone aged ten years old or older. With reference to criminal history, unspent criminal convictions can have a negative effect on an application and must be declared. Varying time limits apply regarding when a conviction will be declared ‘spent’ according to the crime committed. Crimes that incurred a custodial sentence of 30 months or longer will never be considered spent.