How to Become a British citizen

British nationality law is the law of the United Kingdom that concerns citizenship and other categories of British nationality. The law is complex because of the United Kingdom's historical status as an imperial power.

English law and Scots law have always distinguished between the Monarch's subjects and aliens, but British nationality law was uncodified until the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 codified existing common law and statute, with a few minor changes.

Some thought the single Imperial status of British subject as increasingly inadequate to deal with a Commonwealth with independent member states. In 1948, the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed that each member would adopt a national citizenship, but that the existing status of the British subject would continue as a common status held by all Commonwealth citizens.

The British Nationality Act 1948 established the status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC), the national citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies on 1 January 1949. Until the early 1960s there was little difference, if any, in UKlaw between the rights of CUKCs and other British subjects, all of whom had the right at any time to enter and live in the UK.

Independence Acts passed when the remaining colonies were granted independence contained nationality provisions. In general, these provisions withdrew the status of CUKC from anyone who became citizens of the newly independent country, unless one had a connection with the UK or a remaining colony (e.g. through birth in the UK). Exceptions were sometimes made in cases where the colonies did not become independent. (Notable cases include Penang and Malacca, which were made part of the Federation of Malaya; and Hong Kong, which became part of the People's Republic of China: CUKC status was not withdrawn from CUKCs from Penang and Malacca, and a new British nationality status was created for Hong Kong.)

Between 1962 and 1971, as a result of fears about increasing immigration by Commonwealth citizens from Asia and Africa, the UK gradually tightened controls on immigration by British subjects from other parts of the Commonwealth. The Immigration Act 1971 introduced the concept of patriality, by which only British subjects with sufficiently strong links to the British Islands (i.e. the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) had right of abode, the right to live and work in the Islands.

The principal British nationality law is the British Nationality Act 1981, which established the current system of multiple categories of British nationality, viz. British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens, British Overseas citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British subjects and British protected persons. Only British citizenship and certain Commonwealth citizens have the automatic right of abode in the UK.

The 1981 Act ceased to recognise Commonwealth citizens as British subjects. There remain only two categories of people who are still British subjects: those (formerly known as British subjects without citizenship) who acquired British nationality through a connection with former British India, and those connected with the Republic of Ireland before 1949 who have made a declaration to retain British nationality. British subjects connected with former British India lose British nationality if they acquire any other.

In spite of the fact that the 1981 act repealed most of the provisions of 1948 act and the nationality clauses in subsequent independence acts, the acquisition of new categories of British nationality created by the 1981 act was often dependent on nationality status prior to 1 January 1983, the date the 1981 act came into effect, so many of the provisions of the 1948 act and subsequent independence acts are still relevant. Not taking this into account might lead one to the erroneous conclusion, for example, that the 1981 act's repeal of the nationality clauses in the Kenya Independence Act of 1963 restored British nationality to those who lost their CUKC status as a result of Kenya's independence in 1963. This is one of the reasons for the complexity of British nationality law; in complicated cases, determining British nationality status requires an examination of several nationality acts in their original form.


British citizen
    British citizens usually hold this status through a connection with the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man ("United Kingdom and Islands"). Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) who possessed right of abode under the Immigration Act 1971 through a connection with the UK and Islands generally became British citizens on 1 January 1983.

    British citizenship is the most common type of British nationality, and the only one that automatically carries a right of abode in the UK.

    Other rights can vary according to how the British citizenship was acquired. In particular there are restrictions for 'British citizens by descent' transmitting British citizenship to children born outside the UK. These restrictions do not apply to 'British citizens other than by descent'.


British Overseas Territories citizens (formerly British Dependent Territories citizenship) (BOTC)

    BOTC (formerly BDTC) is the form of British nationality held by connection with an overseas territory. Nearly all are now also British citizens as a result of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. It is possible to hold BOTC and British citizenship simultaneously.

Residual categories

The four residual categories are expected to become extinct with the passage of time. They can be passed to children only in exceptional circumstances, e.g., if the child would otherwise be stateless. There is consequently little provision for the acquisition of these classes of nationality by people who do not already have them.

British Overseas citizen (BOC)

    BOCs are CUKCs who did not qualify for British citizenship or British Dependent Territories citizenship. Most derived their status as CUKCs from former colonies, such as Malaysia and Kenya, because of quirks and exceptions in the law that resulted in their retaining CUKC status in spite of the independence of their colonies. This is fairly uncommon: most CUKCs (including those from Malaysia and Kenya) lost their CUKC status upon independence.

British subject

    British subjects (as defined in the 1981 Act) are British subjects who were not CUKCs or citizens of any other Commonwealth country. Most derived their status as British subjects from British India or the Republic of Ireland as they existed before 1949.

British National (Overseas) (BNO)

    The status of BNO was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985 and the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Order 1986. BNOs are Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens who applied for the status of BNO before the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. Hong Kong BDTCs who did not apply to become BNOs and who did not gain PRC nationality after the handover became British Overseas citizens if they did not have any other nationality.

British protected person (BPP)

    BPPs derive from parts of the British Empire that were protectorates or protected states with nominally independent rulers under the "protection" of the British Crown, not officially part of the Crown's dominions. The status of BPP is sui generis – BPPs are not Commonwealth citizens (British subjects, in the old sense) and were not traditionally considered British nationals, but are not aliens either.

Relationship with right to abode

Only the status of British citizen carries with it the right of abode somewhere (in this case the UK), and all British passports include a note to this effect. In practice BOTCs (except those associated with the Sovereign bases in Cyprus) were granted full British citizenship in 2002, BN(O)s have right of residence in Hong Kong (note: not conferred by the BNO status), BSs and BPPs lose their statuses upon acquisition of another nationality (except BSs connected with the Republic of Ireland) and so should be eligible for registration as British Citizens under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

British Overseas Citizens are unique in that their nationality status is not associated with a right of residence.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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