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British Citizenship by Descent

Acquiring British citizenship is a dream for many migrants and their families who have made the UK their home. Those who have citizenship of the UK enjoy a number of benefits that do not apply to individuals with permanent residence or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). It provides the ‘right of abode’, which according to the Immigration Act 1971, confers the right to “live in, and to come and go into and from, the United Kingdom without let or hindrance”. British citizens also have the right to vote in public elections and stand for office. Perhaps one of the most desirable aspects of being a British citizen is the right to have a British passport, which according to the passport index, is the joint-second most powerful in the world, allowing visa-free entry into 82 countries.

In this article, we will discuss the specific eligibility requirements for British citizenship by descent.

What Is British Citizenship by Descent?

British citizenship by descent simply means that you have the right to British Citizenship because you have a British parent. Those who are deemed British citizens by descent cannot normally pass on citizenship to a child born overseas. A British citizen by descent would have acquired their citizenship in one of the following ways:

  • by birth outside the United Kingdom to a parent who was a British citizen
  • by registration

It is important to understand that British citizenship by descent is different from ‘British citizenship other than by descent’. Those who have British citizenship other than by descent are able to pass on their citizenship to a child born overseas. A British citizen by other than descent would have acquired their citizenship by being born, adopted, naturalised or, in most cases, registered in the United Kingdom or a qualifying territory.

What Are the Eligibility Rules for British Citizenship by Descent?

British citizenship is typically passed down automatically one generation to children born outside the UK. This means you are likely to automatically be deemed a UK citizen if you were born outside the UK to a British parent. This also means that your children will not automatically be entitled to citizenship status if they’re born outside the UK.

The eligibility criteria depend on the date you were born outside of the UK:

If you were born on or after 1 July 2006

Automatic citizenship

You will automatically be a British citizen if you were born overseas on or after 1 July 2006 if your:

  • mother or father was a British citizen when you were born
  • British parent could pass on their citizenship to you

If you are not automatically a citizen

If you are not automatically a British citizen by descent, you may be able to apply for citizenship if you’ve lived in the UK with your parents, or your British parent lived in the UK before you were born, or you were adopted outside the UK. There are additional criteria that apply for each of these non-automatic scenarios, which can be viewed on the UK Government website.

If you were born between 1983 and June 2006

Automatic citizenship

You will automatically be a British citizen if you were born overseas between 1983 and June 2006 if you’re:

  • mother or father was a British citizen when you were born (they must have been married if your father had British citizenship, but your mother did not), and;
  • British parent could pass on their citizenship to you.

If you are not automatically a citizen

Even though you may not automatically be a British citizen by descent because your British father was not married to your mother when you were born, you may be able to apply for citizenship if he was:

  • born or adopted in the UK, or;
  • given citizenship after applying for it in his own right (not based on having a British parent), or;
  • working as a Crown servant when you were born

If you were born before 1983

Automatic citizenship

You will automatically be a British citizen if you were born overseas before 1983 if:

  • you were born outside the UK
  • your father is British

In addition, when you were born, your father must have been all of the following:

  • a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies
  • married to your mother
  • able to pass on his citizenship to you

If you are not automatically a citizen

You may be eligible to apply for citizenship if either your:

  • parents were not married when you were born, or;
  • mother was British, not your father

Your mother or father must have been a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies when you were born, and one of the following:

  • born or adopted in the UK
  • given citizenship after applying for it in their own right (not based on having a British parent)
  • working as a Crown servant when you were born

If you are automatically classified as a British citizen by descent, there is nothing more you need to do, and if you wish you can apply for a British passport.

If you are not automatically classified as a British citizen by descent, you will need to complete the appropriate application form based on the date you were born.

Final Words

British citizenship law can be quite complex depending on your precise circumstances. If you are unsure if you have British citizenship by descent, or whether you can apply, it is advisable to speak to experienced immigration Solicitors who will listen to your history and help you to determine your status. If you do need to make an application, they can also assist you with completing the application form and collating the information you need to prove your right to British citizenship by descent.

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"Andy Tieu is absolutely amazing, as a lawyer myself I can categorically say tha...

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Kiran Sardar

"I found Joe very helpful and tremendous patience which is a must in this profes...

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Cheyam Shaked

"Anna Foley was the lawyer helping my partner obtain an EEA EFM visa. She was ou...

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Isaac .T

"Professional service. I was very impressed with the fact that my ILR applicatio...

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