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British Citizenship for a Child Born Abroad to Settled Parents

The rules regarding UK citizenship and naturalisation can seem complex to the uninitiated. We are often asked by our own clients if it is possible for a child born in the UK, or outside, to parents with UK indefinite leave to remain (ILR), to register as a British citizen. In this article, we will explain in which circumstances a child is eligible for automatic British citizenship and, if not, who can register as a British citizen (this advice relates to parents or one parent from outside of the European Economic Area, as different rules apply for members of the EEA).

Who is automatically eligible for British citizenship?

According to the official government guidance accompanying the British Nationality Act 1981, those who automatically become British citizens do not need to register for citizenship. There are two primary ways in which a child can become a citizen of the UK automatically:

  • British citizenship otherwise than by descent – in this case, the child would need to be born in the UK to a parent who is either a British citizen, or has settled (i.e. has ILR or EU settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme), or is a member of the UK armed forces.
  • British citizenship by descent – whereby a child of a person with British citizenship otherwise than by descent is born outside of the UK. A person who was born outside of the UK to a British parent, and hence is themselves a British citizen by descent cannot pass on citizenship to a child born outside the UK.

Who Is Entitled to Register for British Citizenship?

Under the British Nationality Act 1981, a child born in the UK can register for British citizenship in the following circumstances

  • If the child’s parents are not British citizens and were not settled in the UK, the child will later be able to register if and when one of their parents become settled in the UK or become British citizens
  • Where the child was born in the UK on or after 13 January 2010 and their parents were not born British citizens and were not settled in the UK, the child will be able to register if either parent becomes a member of the UK armed forces.
  • If a child lives in the UK for the first ten years of their life
  • A child born in the UK who is and has always been stateless may qualify on the basis of a period of five years of residence.

A child born outside of the UK can register for British citizenship if:

  • either of the child’s parents was a British citizen by descent at the time of the child’s birth
  • the mother or father of that parent (the child’s grandparent) became, or but for their death would have become a British citizen otherwise than by descent

In addition, to qualify for citizenship under this route, the parent with British citizenship by descent must have lived in the UK continuously for three years prior to the birth of the child. Continuous in this sense means that they must not have been outside of the country for more than 270 days in that period. In addition, the child must be under 18 years when registering for citizenship. It is also important to note that the three-year period does not apply if the child is stateless.

Taking the above rules into consideration, children who are born outside of the UK to parents who are settled in the UK, but are not citizens, will not have the immediate right to register for British citizenship, but this does not mean it cannot be acquired later.

Read also: Top Tips on Passing the British Citizenship Test

When Can a Child Born Outside of the UK to Settled Parents Apply for Citizenship?

A child born outside of the UK to settled parents in the UK will be able to apply for British citizenship once they have been living in the UK with ILR for one year. If you, as the parent, have ILR, you will be able to apply for ILR for your child as long as:

  • the child lives in the UK with both parents
  • both parents are settled in the UK

It may also be possible for the child to acquire ILR if one parent is settled in the UK if any of the following are true:

  • the parent has sole responsibility for looking after the child
  • the other parent is dead
  • there are compelling reasons why the child should be allowed to stay in the UK

A parent, from the perspective of immigration law, refers to either a) a natural (biological) parent, b) an adoptive parent, or c) a step-parent where the biological parent has died.

While ILR is not the same as citizenship, with this immigration status, the child will be able to remain in the UK indefinitely, re-enter the UK if they travel abroad, and apply for citizenship after only one year. In addition, you will not need to pay for the healthcare surcharge on their behalf.

What is the process of registering my son/daughter as a British citizen?

To register a child under 18 as a British citizen, you will need to complete and submit form MN1, which is available on the Home Office website. Supporting documentation will need to be provided with your form, including the birth certificate of the child and evidence of the status of the parents in the UK. An application fee of £460 is chargeable for each application. Guidance on completing the form can also be found on the Home Office website.

  • When completing the MN1 form, you will need to provide:
  • The form also requires the consent of both parents and for the applicant to make a formal legal declaration that the information provided is correct.
  • Section 1: Personal details for you and your child
  • Section 2: Residence history for your child
  • Section 3: Your residence history (i.e. the parent) in the UK
  • Section 4: Proving good character for children over ten years
  • Section 5: Proving identity and references – the form states, “Each referee should know the child personally. One referee should be a professional who has engaged with the child in a professional capacity, such as a teacher, health visitor, social worker or minister of religion. The other referee must normally be the holder of a British citizen passport and either a professional person or over the age of 25”
  • Section 6: Biometric enrolment- including child’s fingerprints and digital photographs

Which supporting documents are needed to register my child as a British citizen?

The process of applying to register for UK citizenship is, thankfully, less complex and time-consuming than naturalisation. Applicants do not need to pass the Life in the UK test (regardless of age), and nor do they need to pass and provide proof of passing a CEFR English language test. The full documentation requirements are included in the Home Office’s online guidance entitled ‘Registration as British citizen: children’. Because of the importance of safeguarding children, there are several items of evidence that are needed to ensure this is maintained.

Evidence you may need to provide with the MN1 application includes:

  • child’s full birth certificate showing parents’ details
  • evidence of the parent’s British citizenship by descent at the time of the child’s birth
  • if the claim is through the father and the child was born before 1st July 2006, the parent’s marriage certificate
  • passports or alternative evidence of residence for the children and the parents to
  • confirm: residence in the UK for three years immediately before the date of application, and they had not been absent from the UK for more than 270 days in that three year
  • period
  • if one of the parents has died, the death certificate for the deceased parent
  • if the parent’s marriage or civil partnership has ended in divorce, either:
    • the parents’ divorce certificate
    • a decree of nullity
    • evidence of dissolution of civil partnership
    • a decree of judicial separation

You will be advised which documents to provide when you apply based on the type of application you are making. Because of the importance of safeguarding and avoidance of fraud in such applications, Home Office case officers are particularly vigilant when it comes to checking documents. Where possible, speak to an immigration Solicitor before you submit the final application to register as a British citizen on behalf of your child. They will be able to review the application and check that the accompanying documents meet the standards required. Where there are gaps in the documents, or they are not in the correct format or translated properly, they will advise what steps to make before you submit the registration.

How can I check if my child is a British Citizen by Descent?

A child should ordinarily acquire British citizenship by descent automatically if they were born outside the UK on or after 1st January 1983 and one of their parents are British citizens ‘otherwise than by descent’. As the rules explain, “) A “British citizen otherwise than by descent” is someone who can pass their citizenship onto a child born overseas. Generally speaking, a British citizen otherwise than by descent is a British citizen who was born, adopted, naturalised or, in most cases, registered in the United Kingdom or a qualifying territory”.

If your child did not automatically gain British citizenship by descent, they may be able to register. If you are unsure if your child gained British Citizenship by descent, speak to an immigration Solicitor who will be able to confirm this for you.

What documents will I need to apply for a British passport for my child?

Another of the significant benefits of being a British citizen is that you can apply for and acquire a United Kingdom passport. Once your child has completed the citizenship registration process and has received their certificate of registration, they will be able to apply for a UK passport. To apply for a UK passport for your child, you will need to provide several documents, including:

  • two recent photos of your child
  • the child’s full birth or adoption certificate (containing the parent’s information)
  • evidence your child has British nationality (e.g. a British registration certificate, parent’s passport details or parent’s birth certificates)
  • any valid passports from a different country belonging to the child
  • any court orders (for example, that describe parental responsibility or residency arrangements)

How long will it take to register my child as a British citizen?

After you have submitted the MN1 form to register your child as a British citizen, the decision-making process typically takes between eight and 16 weeks, however, it can take up to six months in some cases. Unfortunately, there is no priority processing service to speed up the process.

The factors which can determine how long your application to register your child as a British citizen include the complexity of your case, whether you have provided sufficient evidence with the application, how fast you are at providing additional information requested by the embassy or Home Office, and whether you have paid the correct fee.

How can your London immigration lawyers help me obtain citizenship for my child?

Applying for British citizenship for your child can be a worrying and nerve-wracking time, given the importance of the outcome.

Our London based immigration lawyers understand in intricate detail how to help our clients gain British citizenship for their children born outside of the UK. We tailor our service to your needs, hence if you need us to handle the whole process on your behalf or provide advice and review your application and documents, we can do so.

Because our team have dealt with many applications for the naturalisation and registration of foreign children as UK citizens, we understand the various complications that can arise and how to deal with these. We will provide a detailed covering letter with your application to ensure that the case officer deciding your matter can see all of the facts to hand and that any complicating factors are pre-empted and explained in full. Our team will also handle any questions that arise from your application from the embassy or Home Office and deal with them in a timely manner.

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