|British citizenship and|
|Law relating to former territories|
British nationality law prescribes the conditions under which a person is recognised as being a national of the United Kingdom. The six different classes of British nationality each have varying degrees of civil and political rights, due to the UK's historical status as a colonial empire. The primary class of British nationality is British citizenship, which is associated with the United Kingdom itself and the Crown dependencies. Foreign nationals may naturalize as British citizens after meeting a minimum residence requirement (usually five years) and acquiring settled status.
British nationals associated with a current British Overseas Territory are British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTCs). Almost all BOTCs (except for those from Akrotiri and Dhekelia) have also been British citizens since 2002. Individuals connected with former British colonies may hold residual forms of British nationality, which do not confer an automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom and generally may no longer be acquired. These residual nationalities are the statuses of British Overseas citizen, British subject, British National (Overseas) and British protected person.
Generally, nationality refers to a person's legal belonging to a sovereign state and is the common term used in international treaties when addressing members of a country, while citizenship usually means the set of rights and duties a person has in that nation. This distinction is clearly defined in many non-English speaking countries but not in the Anglosphere, nor in the Romance-speaking world (except France). Historically, an individual associated with Britain was referred to neither as a national nor a citizen, but a British subject. British citizenship was not created until passage of the British Nationality Act 1981. This Act defined six types of nationality with varying degrees of civil and political rights, dependent on a person's connections with the United Kingdom, overseas territories, or former colonies. British citizens hold their status because of a close connection with the UK, usually through their own (or parents' or grandparents') birth, adoption, naturalisation, or registration as citizens of the UK.
There are six types of British nationality. Any of the following is a British national:
Of these statuses, only British citizenship grants automatic right of abode in the United Kingdom. British Overseas Territories are areas outside of the British Islands where the UK holds sovereignty. Since 2002, nearly all BOTCs also hold British citizenship, except for those associated with Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
The other four categories are residual nationality classes that generally cannot be acquired. BOCs are people connected with former British colonies who have no close ties to the UK or overseas territories. BN(O)s are Hong Kong residents who voluntarily registered for this status before the territory's transfer to China in 1997. British subjects hold their status through a connection either to former British India or the Republic of Ireland before 1949. British protected persons come from areas controlled by the British Empire but were never formally incorporated as Crown territory (former protectorates, protected states, and territorial mandates and trusts).
Main article: History of British nationality law
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" was becoming increasingly inadequate to deal with a Commonwealth of independent member states. In 1948, the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed that each member would adopt a national citizenship (Canada had already done so), but that the existing status of British subject would continue as a common status held by all Commonwealth citizens.
The British Nationality Act 1948 marked the first time that married British women gained independent nationality, regardless of the citizenship of their spouses. It 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 British law between the rights of CUKCs and other British subjects, all of whom had the right at any time to enter, live and work in the UK.
Independence acts, passed when colonies were granted independence, contained nationality provisions. In general, these provisions withdrew CUKC status from anyone who became a citizen of the newly independent country, unless the person 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 the Crown Colony of Penang and the Crown Colony of Malacca, which were made part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957; CUKC status was not withdrawn from CUKCs from Penang and Malacca even though they automatically acquired Malayan citizenship at the time of independence).
Between the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and the Immigration Act 1971, as a result of fears about increasing immigration by non-white Commonwealth citizens, the UK gradually tightened controls on immigration by British subjects from other parts of the Commonwealth. Following the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, citizens of Commonwealth countries who had been born, or whose parent or grandparent had been born, in the United Kingdom still retained CUKC as a dual-nationality. A 1964 amendment to the 1948 citizenship Act (titled the British Nationality Act 1964 ) ensured that those who had such a connection to the UK, but who had been, or were to be, required to renounce CUKC in order to obtain the citizenship of a Commonwealth country, were able to regain CUKC.
Many ethnic-Indians from former African colonies such as Kenya (which became independent in December, 1963) and Uganda (which had become independent in October 1962), who had been permitted to retain CUKC under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 lest they be denied the citizenship of their new Commonwealth countries and be left stateless, began to move to the United Kingdom following independence, resulting in the rapid passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 (fully titled An Act to amend sections 1 and 2 of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, and Schedule 1 to that Act, and to make further provision as to Commonwealth citizens landing in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid) to stop this migration. The Act removed the rights of free entry to, and abode and work in, the United Kingdom from those British Subjects who were not born in, or possessed of a qualifying connection to, the United Kingdom. This applied not only to Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies from Commonwealth countries, but also to those Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in the remaining colonies.
The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 made a number of changes to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, beginning with amending the definition of to whom the Act applied. By comparison:
Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962:
CONTROL OF IMMIGRATION
1.-(1) The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect for controlling the immigration into the United Kingdom of Commonwealth citizens to whom this section applies.
- (2) This section applies to any Commonwealth citizen not being-
- (a) a person born in the United Kingdom :
- (b) a person who holds a United Kingdom passport and is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, or who holds such a passport issued in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland; or (c) a person included in the passport of another person who is excepted under paragraph (a) or paragraph (b) of this subsection.
(3) In this section "passport" means a current passport; and "United Kingdom passport" means a passport issued to the holder by the Government of the United Kingdom, not being a passport so issued on behalf of the Government of any part of the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom.
(4) This Part of this Act applies to British protected persons and citizens of the Republic of Ireland as it applies to Commonwealth citizens, and references therein to Commonwealth citizens, and to Commonwealth citizens to whom this section applies, shall be construed accordingly.
Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968:
1. In section 1 of the principal Act (application of Part I), in subsection (2)(b) after the words "citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies" there shall be inserted the words "and fulfils the condition specified in subsection (2A) of this section", and after subsection (2) there shall be inserted the following subsection:-
- "(2A) The condition referred to in subsection (2)(b) of this section, in relation to a person, is that he, or at least one of his parents or grandparents,-
- (a) was born in the United Kingdom, or
- (b) is or was a person naturalised in the United Kingdom, or
- (c) became a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of being adopted in the United Kingdom, or
- (d) became such a citizen by being registered under Part II of the British Nationality Act 1948 or under the British Nationality Act 1964, either in the United kingdom or in a country which, on the date on which he was so registered, was one of the countries mentioned in section 1(3) of the said Act of 1948 as it had effect on that date".
The Immigration Act 1971 (fully titled An Act to amend and replace the present immigration laws, to make certain related changes in the citizenship law and enable help to be given to those wishing to return abroad, and for purposes connected therewith) introduced the concept of patriality, by which only British subjects (i.e. CUKCs and Commonwealth citizens) with sufficiently strong links to the British Islands (e.g. being born in the islands or having a parent or a grandparent who was born there), or who had legally resided in the United Kingdom for five years, had right of abode, meaning they were exempt from immigration control and had the right to enter, live and work in the islands. The act, therefore, had de facto created two types of CUKCs: those with right of abode in the UK, and those without right of abode in the UK (who might or might not have right of abode in a Crown colony or another country). Despite differences in immigration status being created, there was no de jure difference between the two in a nationality context, as the 1948 Act still specified one tier of citizenship throughout the UK and its colonies. This changed in 1983, when the 1948 Act was replaced by a multi-tier nationality system.
The current principal British nationality law in force, since 1 January 1983, is the British Nationality Act 1981, which established the system of multiple categories of British nationality. To date, six tiers were created: British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens, British Overseas citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British subjects, and British protected persons. Only British citizens and certain Commonwealth citizens have the automatic right of abode in the UK, with the latter holding residual rights they had prior to 1983.
The stripping of birth rights from at least some of the colonial CUKCs in 1968 and 1971, and the change of their citizenships in 1983, actually revoked the rights irrevocably granted them by Royal Charters at the founding of the colonies. Bermuda (fully The Somers Isles or Islands of Bermuda), by example, had been settled by the London Company (which had been in occupation of the archipelago since the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture) in 1612, when it received its Third Royal Charter from King James I, amending the boundaries of the First Colony of Virginia far enough across the Atlantic to include Bermuda. The citizenship rights guaranteed to settlers by King James I in the original Royal Charter of the 10 April 1606, thereby applied to Bermudians:
Alsoe wee doe, for us, our heires and successors, declare by theise presentes that all and everie the parsons being our subjects which shall dwell and inhabit within everie or anie of the saide severall Colonies and plantacions and everie of theire children which shall happen to be borne within the limitts and precincts of the said severall Colonies and plantacions shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunites within anie of our other dominions to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and borne within this our realme of Englande or anie other of our saide dominions.
These rights were confirmed in the Royal Charter granted to the London Company's spin-off, the Company of the City of London for the Plantacion of The Somers Isles, in 1615 on Bermuda being separated from Virginia:
And wee doe for vs our heires and successors declare by these Pnts, that all and euery persons being our subjects which shall goe and inhabite wthin the said Somer Ilandes and every of their children and posterity which shall happen to bee borne within the limits thereof shall haue and enjoy all libertyes franchesies and immunities of free denizens and natural subjectes within any of our dominions to all intents and purposes, as if they had beene abiding and borne wthin this our Kingdome of England or in any other of our Dominions
In regards to former CUKCs of St. Helena, Lord Beaumont of Whitley in the House of Lords debate on the British Overseas Territories Bill on 10 July 2001, stated:
Citizenship was granted irrevocably by Charles I. It was taken away, quite wrongly, by Parliament in surrender to the largely racist opposition to immigration at the time.
Aside from different categories of a nationality, the 1981 Act also ceased to recognise Commonwealth citizens as British subjects. There remain only two categories of people who are still British subjects: those who acquired British nationality through a connection with former British India (formerly known as British subjects without citizenship), 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 another citizenship.
In spite of the fact that the 1981 Act repealed most of the provisions of the 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 entered into force), so many of the provisions of the 1948 Act and subsequent independence acts are still relevant. Not taking this into account might lead 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 some cases, determining British nationality status requires an examination of several nationality acts in their original form.
Individuals born within the British Islands (the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies) receive British citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a British citizen or considered to have settled status in the UK. Children born overseas are British citizens by descent if either parent is a citizen otherwise than by descent. Adopted children are treated as if they were naturally born to the adopting parents at the time of adoption. Children born abroad to members of the British Armed Forces or British citizens on Crown service are treated as if they were born in the UK.
All children born in the British Islands before 1983 automatically received citizenship at birth regardless of the nationalities of their parents. Children born in the UK to a resident Irish citizen at any time are always British citizens at birth. Since 1983, the status of a child born in the UK is dependent on whether their parents held British citizenship or settled status at the time of their birth.
Regulations concerning settled status for other European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and Swiss citizens have changed greatly over time, affecting the status of their children born during the different regulatory periods. EU/EEA citizens living in the UK before 2 October 2000 were automatically considered to be settled. Between that date and 29 April 2006, EU/EEA citizens were required to apply for permanent residency. Swiss citizens became subject to the same regulations on 1 June 2002. From 30 April 2006 until 30 June 2021, EU/EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK for at least five years automatically received permanent resident status. Permanent resident status for these citizens expired on 1 July 2021, after which they have been required to hold settled status through the European Union Settlement Scheme or another path.
Foreigners may naturalise as British citizens after residing in the UK for more than five years and possessing indefinite leave to remain (ILR) for at least one year. The residency requirement is reduced to three years if an applicant is married to a British citizen and they immediately become eligible for naturalisation after receiving ILR or equivalent. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic languages and pass the Life in the United Kingdom test.
Main article: British Overseas Territories citizen
Individuals born in a territory automatically receive BOTC status if at least one parent is a BOTC or has belonger status. Children born in an overseas territory to British citizen parents who are not settled in a territory are British citizens at birth, but not BOTCs. Parents do not necessarily need to be connected with the same overseas territory to pass on BOTC status. Alternatively, a child born in an overseas territory may be registered as a BOTC if either parent becomes a BOTC or settles in any overseas territory subsequent to birth. A child who lives in the same territory until age 10 and is not absent for more than 90 days in each year is also entitled to registration as a BOTC. Furthermore, an adopted child automatically become a BOTC on the effective day of adoption if either parent is a BOTC or has belonger status. In all cases that an individual is a British Overseas Territories citizen at birth or adoption within the territories, that person is a BOTC otherwise than by descent.
Individuals born outside of the territories are BOTCs by descent if either parent is a BOTC otherwise than by descent. Unmarried fathers cannot automatically pass on BOTC status, and it would be necessary for them to register children as BOTCs. If a parent is a BOTC by descent, additional requirements apply to register children as BOTCs. Parents in Crown service who have children abroad are exempted from these circumstances, and their children would be BOTCs otherwise than by descent, as if they had been born on their home territory.
Foreigners and non-BOTC British nationals may naturalise as British Overseas Territories citizens after residing in a territory for more than five years and possessing belonger status or permanent residency for more than one year. The residency requirement is reduced to three years if an applicant is married to a BOTC. All applicants for naturalisation and registration are normally considered by the governor of the relevant territory, but the Home Secretary retains discretionary authority to grant BOTC status. Since 2004, BOTC applicants aged 18 or older are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and loyalty pledge to the relevant territory during their citizenship ceremonies.
All British Overseas Territories citizens other than those solely connected with Akrotiri and Dhekelia became British citizens on 21 May 2002, and children born on qualified overseas territories to dual BOTC-British citizens since that date are both BOTCs and British citizens otherwise than by descent. Prior to 2002, only BOTCs from Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands were given unrestricted access to citizenship. BOTCs naturalised after that date may also become British citizens by registration at the discretion of the Home Secretary. Becoming a British citizen has no effect on BOTC status; BOTCs may also simultaneously be British citizens.
Main articles: British Overseas citizen, British National (Overseas), British subject, and British protected person
It is generally not possible to acquire other forms of British nationality. British Overseas citizenship, British subjecthood, and British protected person status are only transferred by descent if an individual born to a parent holding one of these statuses would otherwise be stateless. British Overseas citizens retain their status by association with most former British colonies, British subjects are connected specifically with Ireland or British India before 1949, and British protected persons are associated with territories that were under British control but not formally incorporated as part of the British Empire. British National (Overseas) status was exclusively granted by voluntary registration to Hong Kong residents who had been British Dependent Territories citizens prior to the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997 and cannot be newly acquired in any case.
Non-citizen British nationals may become British citizens by registration, rather than naturalisation, after residing in the United Kingdom for more than five years and possessing ILR for more than one year.
All categories of British nationality can be renounced by a declaration made to the Home Secretary. A person ceases to be a British national on the date the Home Secretary registers the declaration of renunciation. If a declaration is registered in the expectation of acquiring another citizenship but one is not acquired within six months of the registration, it does not take effect and the person remains a British national.
Renunciations made to other authorities are not recognised by the UK. The forms must be sent through the UK Border Agency's citizenship renunciation process. There are provisions for the resumption of British citizenship or British overseas territories citizenship renounced for the purpose of gaining or retaining another citizenship. This can generally only be done once as a matter of entitlement. Further opportunities to resume British citizenship are discretionary.
British subjects, British Overseas citizens and British Nationals (Overseas) cannot resume their British nationality after renunciation.
British subjects (other than British subjects by virtue of a connection with the Republic of Ireland) and British protected persons lose British nationality upon acquiring any other form of nationality.
The British government does not publish the number of people it strips of citizenship, but independent research by a lawyer-run website, in 2022, found at least 464 people's citizenship was revoked in the last 15 years. 
After the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 came into force British nationals could be deprived of their citizenship if and only if the Secretary of State was satisfied they were responsible for acts seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or an Overseas Territory.
This was extended under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006: people with dual nationality who are British nationals can be deprived of their British citizenship if the Secretary of State is satisfied that "deprivation is conducive to the public good", or if nationality was obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact. Between 2006 and the end of 2021 at least 464 people have had their citizenship removed by the government since the law was introduced. There is a right of appeal. This provision has been in force since 16 June 2006 when the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006 (Commencement No 1) Order 2006 brought it into force. Loss of British nationality in this way applies also to dual nationals who are British by birth. The Secretary of State may not deprive a person of British nationality, unless obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact, if they are satisfied that the order would make a person stateless.[a]
This provision was again modified by the Immigration Act 2014 so as not to require that a third country would actually grant nationality to a person; British nationality can be revoked if "the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory."
The powers to strip citizenship were initially very rarely used. Between 2010 and 2015, 33 dual nationals had been deprived of their British citizenship. In the two years to 2013 six people were deprived of citizenship; then in 2013, 18 people were deprived, increasing to 23 in 2014. In 2017, over 40 people had been deprived as of July (at this time increased numbers of British citizens went to join "Islamic State" and then tried to return).
The Home Office does not issue information on these cases and is resistant to answering questions, for example under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It appears that the government usually waits until the person has left Britain, then sends a warning notice to their British home and signs a deprivation order a day or two later. Appeals are heard at the highly secretive Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), where the government can submit evidence that cannot be seen or challenged by the appellant.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in 2018 that until then deprivation of nationality had been restricted to "terrorists who are a threat to the country", but that he intended to extend it to "those who are convicted of the most grave criminal offences". The acting director of Liberty responded "The home secretary is taking us down a very dangerous road. ... making our criminals someone else’s problem is ... the government washing its hands of its responsibilities ... Banishment belongs in the dark ages."
A Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to the British House of Commons in July 2021, sponsored by the Home Office under Home Secretary Priti Patel. In November 2021, an amendment to the Bill was introduced which, if passed, would allow people to be deprived of British citizenship without being given notice. At the time the Home Office reiterated its position on citizenship: "British citizenship is a privilege, not a right".
See also: Anna Chapman, Shamima Begum, and Statelessness
As of 2021, there is no restriction in British law on a British national simultaneously holding citizenship of other countries. As a particular case the Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of qualified residents of Northern Ireland to identify as British or Irish however people born in Northern Ireland are British citizens as per the British Nationality Act 1981.
There is also no restriction on having more than one valid British passport, whether that is of the same type (e.g. to avoid travel difficulties on presenting a passport bearing Israeli stamps) or of two different types (e.g. British Overseas Territories passports from Bermuda provide visa-free entry into Mexico and the United States, unlike full British passports).
However, restrictive rules apply to British protected persons and some British subjects who are not British citizens. A person who is a British subject other than by connection with the Republic of Ireland loses that status on acquiring any other nationality or citizenship, and a British protected person ceases to be such on acquiring any other nationality or citizenship. Although British Overseas citizens are not subject to loss of citizenship, British Overseas citizens may lose an entitlement to register as a British citizen under s4B of the 1981 Act if they acquire any other citizenship.
A number of countries do not allow multiple citizenship. If a person has British nationality and is also a national of a country that does not allow dual nationality, the authorities of that country may regard the person as having lost that nationality, or may refuse to recognise the British nationality. British nationals who acquire the nationality of a country that does not allow dual nationality may be required by the other country to renounce British nationality to retain the other citizenship. None of this affects a person's national status under British law.
Under the international Master Nationality Rule a state may not give diplomatic protection to one of its nationals with dual nationality in a country where the person also holds citizenship.
A British subject who acquired foreign citizenship by naturalisation before 1949 was deemed to have lost their British subject status at the time. No specific provisions were made in the 1948 legislation for such former British subjects to acquire or otherwise resume British nationality, and hence such a person would not be a British citizen today. However, women who lost British nationality on marriage to a foreign man before 1949 were deemed to have reacquired British subject status immediately before the coming into force of the 1948 act.
The UK is a signatory to the 1963 Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality (1963 Strasbourg Convention). Chapter 1 requires that persons naturalised by another European member country automatically forfeit their original nationality. The UK only ratified Chapter 2 of the convention, though, meaning the convention does not limit the ability of British citizens to become dual citizens of other European countries.
From 1 January 2004, all new applicants for British citizenship by naturalisation or registration aged 18 or over if their application is successful must attend a citizenship ceremony and either make an affirmation or take an oath of allegiance to the monarch, and make a pledge to the UK.
Citizenship ceremonies are normally organised by:
Persons from the Republic of Ireland born before 1949 reclaiming British subject status under section 31 of the 1981 Act do not need to attend a citizenship ceremony. If such a person subsequently applies for British citizenship by registration or naturalisation, attendance at a ceremony is required.
For those who applied for British citizenship before 2004:
After the UK withdrew from the European Union (Brexit) in 2020, British nationals lost their citizenship of the European Union because the UK ceased to be a member state. However, the Brexit withdrawal agreement maintained some of those rights for some of the United Kingdom nationals in its Part Two (citizens' rights), particularly Title II (rights and obligations).
Before Brexit, British nationals who were "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes", namely:
were citizens of the European Union under European Union law and enjoyed rights of free movement and the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament until the UK left the EU in 2020. When in a non-EU country where there is no British embassy, British citizens had the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country. British citizens were able to live and work in any country within the EU as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
By virtue of a special provision in the UK's Accession Treaty, British citizens who were connected with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man (i.e. "Channel Islanders and Manxmen") never had the right to live in other European Union countries (except the Republic of Ireland through the long-established Common Travel Area) unless they had connections through descent or residence in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office said: 'British citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Deprivation of citizenship on conducive grounds is rightly reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm. The nationality and borders bill will amend the law so citizenship can be deprived where it is not practicable to give notice, for example if there is no way of communicating with the person.'
British citizenship is a privilege, not a right
British citizenship is a privilege, not a right
The Home Office made its rule change in parliament on Thursday, finally bringing immigration law into line with the 1998 peace deal, which allows anyone born in Northern Ireland to be British, Irish or both.