British by Birth or Descent

British by Birth or Descent

Our UK immigration lawyers specialize in helping US & Canadian citizens apply for British Citizenship.

Awards and Accreditations

The most common types of British citizenship application are those made by children. In fact, many of the categories of registration are time limited: the entitlement to apply ends on the child’s 18th birthday. Some adults can apply for British citizenship as well, however. This type of application is particularly common for adults who would have been born British had nationality law at the time of their birth not been discriminatory.

Applications for British citizenship on a discretionary basis, particularly as a child, can be challenging. Before applying on this basis, it can be helpful to consider the merits of the application, both in principle and the evidence available. One particularly relevant factor for children is whether their future can clearly be seen to lie in the UK. Often a detailed assessment of the child’s parents’ circumstances is required in order to determine the legal merits and prospects of an application succeeding.

British nationality law is incredibly complex. Your precise circumstances are different to those of every other person and vary according to your date or birth, whether you are claiming British citizenship through your maternal or paternal line and the basis upon which your parents acquired their British citizenship. Additionally, British nationality law and its strict definitions have evolved and varied over time. This means, for example, that you may have a claim to British citizenship by automatic acquisition even if one of your siblings does not.

If you wish to learn more about your options to secure British Citizenship for your children or yourself, you can get in touch with Sterling Immigration’s team of expert UK immigration lawyers.

Overview

Most British citizens acquired their citizenship automatically, by operation of law. This will have happened in one of three ways:

  • By birth in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and at the time of your birth either your mother or your father was a British citizen or permanent resident in the UK.
  • By birth outside the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and at the time of your birth either your mother or your father was a British citizen otherwise than by descent; or
  • To have been born before 1 January 1983 and immediately before that date to have been a Citizen of the UK and Colonies with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.

Acquisition by birth in the UK

The plain fact of being born in the United Kingdom since 1 January 1983 does not itself make someone a British citizen unless it is combined with a parental link to a person ordinarily resident in the UK at the time of the birth who has settled immigration status. Settled immigration status effectively means that the parent has indefinite leave to remain, right of abode, or permanent residence under EU law.

Acquisition by birth outside the UK

A British citizen “otherwise than by descent” can have a child outside the UK and the child will be born British “by descent”. A British citizen by descent cannot automatically pass citizenship to a child born outside the UK.

Children born outside the country from UK nationals can acquire British nationality “otherwise than by descent”. This means that he or she will, in turn, be able to transmit this status to future generations born either abroad or in the UK.

Acquisition through a qualifying connection to the UK

In this category of British Citizenship, an application may be submitted where there is a sufficiently strong link with the UK, looking back across the generations, as to make it unfair to decline to permit access to full British citizenship. The requirements, in the normal case, are as follows:

  • As of 13 January 2010, the child must be under the age of 18, and
  • The child’s parent has the weak form of nationality (‘by descent’) but their grandparent has the strong form of nationality (‘otherwise than by descent’), and
  • The child’s parent has a residential link with the UK, in that they have lived here for a three-year period some time prior to the birth of the child and did not leave the UK for more than 270 days within that period.

Ten years of continuous residence in the UK since birth

Both adults and children are entitled to registration if:

  • They were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983, and
  • They were not automatically a British citizen by birth, and
  • They are aged over 10 at the date of the application, and
  • They have lived in the United Kingdom for the first 10 years of their life; and
  • They were absent from the UK for no more than 90 days in each of the first ten years of their life.

“Illegitimate” Children

Until 1 July 2006, a child could only establish a right to nationality via their father if the father was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. An “illegitimate” child of an unmarried British father would not acquire British citizenship unless the child could do so via the mother. This old-fashioned and discriminatory approach finally came to a partial end as of 1 July 2006, though only for children born after that date.

If you were born in the UK before 1 July 2006, your parents were not married at the time of your birth and you would have become a British citizen in certain specific circumstances had your parents been married at the time of your birth, then an application for British Citizenship may be made.

Previously Renounced British Citizenship

You may also be entitled to be registered as a British citizen if you have previously renounced British citizenship, you are of full capacity, and your renunciation of British citizenship was necessary to enable you to acquire or retain some other citizenship or nationality.

Children born to members of the armed forces

A person born in the United Kingdom or a qualifying territory shall be a British citizen if at the time of the birth his father or mother is a member of the armed forces. This means that it is possible for a child born in the UK to acquire British citizenship despite neither parent being British nor having settled status.

If you were born outside the UK on or after 13 January 2010, and at the time of your birth your mother or father was a member of the armed forces serving outside the UK, you may apply for British citizenship.

In addition, any child born in the UK on or after 13 January 2010 whose parent becomes a member of the armed forces will be entitled to apply for British citizenship while still a minor.

Acquisition by adoption

Adopted children may acquire British citizenship where:

EITHER:

  • the adoption is authorised by order of a court in the United Kingdom on or after 1 January 1983 or, on or after 21 May 2002, by an order of a court in a qualifying territory: and
  • the adopter or, in the case of a joint adoption, one of the adopters is a British citizen on the date of the adoption order

OR

  • it is a Convention adoption under the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions; and
  • the adoption is effected on or after 1 June 2003; and
  • the adopter or, in the case of a joint adoption, one of the adopters is a British citizen on the date of the Convention adoption; and
  • the adopter or, in the case of a joint adoption, both adopters are habitually resident in the United Kingdom on the date of the Convention adoption.

Registration of people born abroad before 1983 to a British citizen mother

This category applies where:

  • You were born outside the UK and Colonies before 1 January 1983, and
  • At the time of your birth your mother was a Citizen of the UK and Colonies, and
  • You would have automatically been a Citizen of the UK and Colonies by descent through your mother if specific provisions of British nationality law had provided for this at the time of your birth in the same way as it provided for citizenship by descent through a father, and if in those circumstances you would have had the right of abode in the UK immediately before 1 January 1983.

How our immigration lawyers can help

British Citizenship Law is complex and very challenging.  Expertise in this complex area of law is essential for a successful British Citizenship application. Our highly qualified legal team understand the value of British citizenship and are passionate about helping clients to secure it at the earliest opportunity with minimal expense.  Whether you are looking to apply for registration by entitlement or discretion, our immigration lawyers can guide you through the complexities of British nationality law.

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