British Citizenship Through Descent

British Citizenship Through Descent

Our UK immigration lawyers specialize in representing US & Canadian citizens with applications for British Citizenship by Birth or Descent.

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Overview of British Citizenship

The most common types of British citizenship application are those made by children, also known as British Citizenship by Descent. 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.

Automatic Acquistion of British Citizenship Through Descent

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.

British Citizenship 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.

British Citizenship by Birth Abroad

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.

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.

British Citizenship by Adoption

Adopted children may acquire British citizenship where:


  • 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


  • 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.

British Citizenship Through Marriage

A person will not qualify for British Citizenship automatically by virtue of being married to a British Citizen.

A person will qualify for British Citizenship through marriage once they have lived in the UK for 5 years as a temporary resident on a spouse settlement visa and completed 12 months residence in the United Kingdom while holding indefinite leave to remain.

Overview of British Citizenship

In some cases, an individual who has acquired UK citizenship by descent may be eligible to pass on their citizenship to their children. This is known as citizenship by double descent. In order to pass on citizenship by double descent, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • They are a British citizen by descent (i.e., they acquired their citizenship through their parent or grandparent);
  • They were born outside of the UK;
  • They have not acquired any other citizenship or nationality;
  • Their child was also born outside of the UK.

If an individual meets these criteria, they may be able to register their child as a British citizen. The process for registering a child as a British citizen by double descent is similar to the process for applying for UK citizenship by descent. It includes the submission of an application form and supporting documents.

What Are the Benefits of UK Citizenship by Descent?

There are many benefits to becoming a UK citizen through UK Citizenship by Descent. Some of the most significant benefits include the following:

  1. The ability to live and work in the UK: As a UK citizen, you have the right to live and work in the UK without needing a visa. This can open up many new opportunities for employment, education, and personal growth.
  2. The right to vote and stand for public office: UK citizens have the right to vote in UK elections and stand for public office. This allows you to participate fully in the democratic process and make your voice heard.
  3. The right to bring family members to the UK: As a UK citizen, you have the right to bring your spouse, children, and other family members to the UK to live with you. This can make it easier for families to reunite and provide security and stability.
  4. The ability to access public services: As a UK citizen, you have the right to access a range of public services such as healthcare, education, and social housing. This can provide a safety net and support system for you and your family.
  5. The right to receive consular assistance: As a UK citizen, you have the right to receive consular assistance abroad. This includes things like help with lost or stolen passports, assistance in an emergency, and access to legal advice.
  6. The opportunity to become a dual citizen: Many countries allow for dual citizenship, which means you can become a UK citizen and still retain your current citizenship. This can provide more flexibility and options for travel, work, and personal growth.
  7. The ability to participate in cultural events and activities: As a UK citizen, you can participate fully in the cultural life of the UK, including events, festivals, and other activities. This can help you feel more connected to your community and allow you to explore new interests and passions.
  8. The opportunity to pass on citizenship to future generations: If you have children, becoming a UK citizen through UK Citizenship by Descent means that you can pass on your citizenship to your children and future generations. This can provide a sense of continuity and connection to your heritage.
  9. The right to obtain a UK passport: As a UK citizen, you can apply for a UK passport. A UK passport allows you to travel internationally and access other countries visa-free or with a visa on arrival.
  10. The right to access education and training: UK citizens have the right to access education and training in the UK. This can include primary, secondary, and higher education, vocational training, and professional development opportunities.
  11. The right to receive welfare and benefits: UK citizens can receive benefits, such as unemployment benefits and pensions, if eligible. This can provide a safety net and financial support in times of need.
  12. The right to own property and start a business: As a UK citizen, you have the right to own property and start a business in the UK. This can provide financial security and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

What Are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for UK Citizenship by Descent?

Here are some common mistakes that people make when applying for UK Citizenship by Descent and tips on how to avoid them:

  1. Not understanding the eligibility requirements: It’s essential to understand the eligibility requirements for UK Citizenship by Descent before you begin the application process. Make sure you have a British parent and can prove it with documents such as a birth certificate or adoption papers.
  2. Not providing sufficient documentation: The UK government requires a range of documents to support your citizenship application. Make sure you have all the necessary documents and that they are up to date and in good condition.
  3. Not paying the correct fee: The UK Citizenship by Descent fee varies depending on your age and circumstances. Make sure you pay the correct fee to avoid delays in processing your application.
  4. Not submitting the application form correctly: Make sure you fill out the application form accurately and completely. If you leave any sections blank or make errors, your application could be rejected.
  5. Not following up on the status of your application: It’s essential to keep track of the status of your application and follow up if you have been waiting to hear something for a while. This can help ensure that your application is processed smoothly and efficiently.
  6. Not obtaining a criminal record check: Depending on your circumstances, you may be required to obtain a criminal record check as part of your application for UK Citizenship by Descent. Ensure you follow the instructions for getting this check and submit it as required.
  7. Not understanding the language requirements: You may be required to demonstrate a particular proficiency in English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic as part of your UK Citizenship by Descent application. Make sure you understand the language requirements and take any necessary tests before submitting your application.
  8. Not taking the Life in the UK Test: You may be required to take the Life in the UK Test as part of your application for UK Citizenship by Descent. Make sure you study for the test and understand the material covered before taking it.
  9. Not obtaining proper legal representation: If you have a complex immigration history or are having difficulty with your UK Citizenship by Descent application, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a lawyer or immigration specialist. They can help ensure that your application is completed correctly and increase your chances of success.
  10. Not being patient: The process for obtaining UK Citizenship by Descent can take several months or even years, depending on your circumstances. It’s essential to be patient and understand that the process takes time. Don’t let frustration or impatience derail your application.
  11. Not keeping copies of your documents: It’s important to keep copies of all the documents you submit as part of your application for UK Citizenship by Descent. This includes your application form, supporting documents, and correspondence with the UK government. These copies will be helpful if you need to follow up on your application or if you lose any of the original documents.
  12. Not understanding the oath of allegiance: As part of the process for obtaining UK Citizenship by Descent, you may be required to take the oath of allegiance. Make sure you understand what this means and are prepared to make this commitment before submitting your application.
  13. Not understanding the rights and responsibilities of UK citizenship: Becoming a UK citizen comes with various rights and duties. Make sure you know these before applying for UK Citizenship by Descent so that you are fully prepared to take on these obligations.
  14. Not preparing for the citizenship ceremony: If your UK Citizenship by Descent application is successful, you will be invited to attend a citizenship ceremony. Make sure you understand what to expect and what you need to bring with you to the ceremony.
  15. Not updating your documents after becoming a UK citizen: Once you have obtained UK Citizenship by Descent, it’s essential to update your records to reflect your new citizenship status. This includes your passport, driver’s license, and other identification documents.

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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