How to Apply for British Citizenship

by Gherson Solicitors on May 4, 2012

British citizenship and nationality is defined by law and anyone wishing to claim British nationality must comply with the definitions and requirements of the British Nationality Act 1981 and all related legislation.

British nationality law is among the most complicated in the world and it is therefore important to be properly informed and find out whether you are eligible for British citizenship before commencing the application process. Bear in mind that you will need to pay an application fee which is not refundable if the application is unsuccessful.

Acquiring British citizenship by birth

There are several ways in which you can apply for British citizenship. The first, most obvious one is to be born a British citizen. Knowing whether or not you were born a British citizen is not as simple as it may seem, however. One of the reasons that British nationality law is so complex is due to the United Kingdom’s relationship with other countries around the world. Normally, acquiring British citizenship by birth will depend on where and when you were born, as well as the nationality of your parents. It is not unusual to have to go back several generations to find out whether you are a British citizen or are entitled to apply for British citizenship. This is known as acquiring British citizenship by descent.


You can also apply for British citizenship through naturalisation. Generally, those who hold indefinite leave to remain in the UK (ILR) are able to meet the requirements for naturalisation and thus apply for British citizenship. If you are applying for British citizenship in this way, you must be over 18 years old and be able to demonstrate knowledge of language and life in the UK. This can be demonstrated by passing the ‘Life in the UK test’ or taking an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course in English and citizenship, for those who do not have sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic.


Registration is probably a simpler method of acquiring British citizenship. However, registration as a British citizen is only an option for those who have specific connections to the UK. Those registering as British citizens are normally children, although this option is also available for adults in special circumstances. Registration is also useful in addressing problems created by discrimination in the law in the past. For example, you are now able to register as a British citizen if you were born to certain British mothers between 7 February 1961 and January 1983. Previously, it was only British fathers who could pass on their nationality to children born abroad during this period.

Also, before 1 July 2006 a British father could not pass on British citizenship to his child automatically if the child was born out of wedlock. The child would, however, be eligible for British citizenship if the parents married after the birth.

Moreover, if the unmarried father was domiciled in a county that treated the child born to unmarried parents in the same way as a child born to married parents, then the father could pass on British citizenship to his child automatically, despite the child having been born before 1 July 2006.

British citizenship is just one of the six different forms of British nationality. However, these other types of British nationality do not normally give you the right to live in the UK unless their immigration status allows it.

British nationality law is complicated and difficult to understand. If you are looking for expert legal assistance on how to apply for British citizenship, contact Gherson’s specialist nationality team to discuss your particular circumstances and family history.

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