British Citizenship

19 March 2017

The celebrated 19th-century English historian Lord Macaulay once declared, in a fit of extreme patriotism, that an "acre in Middlesex is worth a principality in Utopia". Some people (especially those who live in Middlesex) may think he went too far, but the verdict of history may to some extent be on his side.

Certainly, the UK is, and historically has been, a popular destination for people from other countries. Since the mid-20th century there has been significant immigration from Commonwealth countries and of course in more recent times there has been large-scale immigration from Europe - the latter an issue of some current political controversy.

British residence and British citizenship are things that seem to be highly prized, and one of the important advantages that British citizenship confers is the British passport, which is one of the best in the world in terms of the number of countries to which it enables entry without any visa.

But, as many readers will know, to acquire British citizenship is, these days, not so easy. The immigration rules have become progressively stricter and more complex over the last few years, and British citizenship cannot in most cases be acquired without a history of immigration leave for the requisite period, and then the acquisition of settlement, and not to mention the Life in the UK test.

But it was not always like this. Historically, people who came from the territories of the British Empire and other overseas British possessions had very strong immigration rights in the UK. Not everyone knows this, but the term "British citizen" is quite a modern one, and did not exist until 1 January 1983. Previously to this there was "Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies" (often referred to as "CUKC" and typically pronounced like "cook"). Occasionally you may meet someone who holds a CUKC passport, which is a rather quaint and cumbersome artefact compared to the modern European-style British passport.

And previously to CUKC there was "British subject", quite an ancient term. In the old days everything was so easy. British subjects (anyone born within the British Crown’s territories) could freely travel to the UK without any extra immigration permission, and this was a situation that continued for CUKCs, which status came into existence (for those who qualified) on 1 January 1949.

But in the 1960s the Government started to introduce immigration restrictions on Commonwealth nationals. And it was the British Nationality Act 1981 and the associated "Big Bang" date of 1 January 1983 that created the modern system of British nationality. Not only was the term "British citizen" created but the status of CUKC was abolished, and a few extra types of British citizenship were created as well. Some readers may be interested or confused to know that there are currently six different types of British citizenship, including the rather exotic British National Overseas (BNO), which was created for the benefit of residents of Hong Kong.

Not only this, but significant restrictions were created in the acquisition of the new status of British citizen. Previously, almost any child born in the UK was entitled to CUKC status but from 1 January 1983 this liberal regime was considerably tightened, and the right of acquisition of British citizenship by birth in the UK is now far more limited.

In any event, "British citizen" is by far the best type of British citizenship. Unlike other types of British citizenship it enables the holder to enter, remain in and leave the UK without any restriction. Whilst the law relating to acquisition of British citizenship by naturalisation or registration is relatively straightforward the law relating to "entitlement" to full British citizenship can get very complicated. Some people with connections with Commonwealth countries or other British territories or ex-territories may be entitled to British citizenship, and in some cases there may be an interaction between British nationality law and their local nationality law.

Some parts of British nationality law are some of the most complex areas of UK immigration law and so if you have an issue or matter in this connection you might find that you need to take good professional advice.

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