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British Citizenship by Double Descent

To the uninitiated, the rules on British citizenship can appear complex and sometimes confusing. If you were to ask someone on the street what the difference is between ‘citizenship by descent’ and ‘citizenship otherwise than by descent’, it is likely you will, understandably, see a few blank faces. Indeed, in our many years of operation as an immigration firm in London, we have dealt with many clients who did not realise they were either automatically British citizens from birth, or that they had the right to register as a British citizen. In part, this is because the rules have changed considerably since the 1980s.

In this article, we will discuss the concept of British citizenship by double and triple descent, and the rules which currently apply.

What Is the Difference between Citizenship by Descent and Otherwise by Descent?

In order to understand the notion of British citizenship by double and triple descent, it is first important to explain the difference between citizenship by descent and otherwise by descent. These are defined as follows:

British citizenship by descent

In general, a British citizen by descent cannot pass on citizenship if they are the parent of a child born outside of the UK. A person may become a British citizen by descent because they themselves were born outside the UK to a parent who was a British citizen otherwise than by descent. They may also have acquired citizenship by registration (i.e. they were not automatically a British citizen).

British citizenship otherwise than by descent

The Government guidance on citizenship for those born outside of the UK states that 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”.

This means that a person with “British citizenship otherwise than by descent” can pass on British citizenship to their children born outside of the UK, but this right ends at that generation; the child will then become a “British citizen by descent” and cannot pass on British citizenship if they later have a child born outside of the UK.

What Does This Mean in The Context of Double Descent?

Citizenship by double descent refers to the ability to acquire British citizenship through grandparents, and by triple is through great-grandparents. In general, due to the way that British citizenship can only be passed down one generation by a parent who has “British citizenship otherwise than by descent” to a child born outside of the UK, citizenship by double and triple descent cannot be relied upon for those born after 1st January 1983.

According to the British citizenship rules, for those born before 1st January 1983, under section 11(3) of the 1981 act, any person who was “registered under section 12(6) of the British Nationality Act 1948 on the grounds of descent in the male line from a person born or naturalised in the UK became a British citizen on 1st January 1983 regardless of whether they held the right of abode before this date”.

On this basis, it may be possible to acquire British citizenship by double descent if you were born before 1983, through your male line of descent. If you are unsure if you are eligible, it is recommended you seek the advice of immigration lawyers who will be able to advise you of your status based on your family history.

What are the Alternatives to British Citizenship by Descent?

If you are unable to acquire British citizenship by descent (whether from your parent or grandparent), another option is to consider applying for a UK Ancestry visa.

With a UK Ancestry visa, you can remain in the UK for five years, after which you can extend your stay or apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), and then citizenship a year later. Under UK Ancestry visa immigration rules, to be eligible, you will need to prove that you:

  • are a Commonwealth citizen
  • are applying from outside the UK
  • have a grandparent who was born in the UK
  • are able and planning to work in the UK
  • are over 17 years
  • have enough money without help from public funds to support and house yourself and any dependents
  • can and plan to work in the UK

As such, the UK Ancestry visa provides a route to living in the UK, and later acquiring citizenship if you have a grandparent born in the UK. When applying, the Home Office will look to establish that your grandparent was born in one of the following circumstances:

  • in the UK, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
  • before 31st March 1922 in what is now Ireland
  • on a British-registered ship or aircraft

You can claim UK ancestry if either you or the relevant parent were adopted, were born within or outside marriage in the UK; although it is not possible to claim ancestry through step-parents.

Final words

This article provides a high-level view of British citizenship by descent. Given the complexity of this area of law, it is always recommended that you seek professional advice based on your exact circumstances. Once immigration Solicitors have a full picture of your family history, they will be able to identify your best option for securing settlement and, where possible, citizenship.

If you are unsure of your family history, an immigration expert will also be able to advise you on where to gather the information you need to determine your status. If you are eligible for citizenship or a UK Ancestry visa, they will guide you through the process, and advise you of the documents which you will need to provide to support your application. Doing so will give you the best chance of receiving a positive outcome and enable you to achieve your goal of living in the UK.

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Reiss Edwards Reviews

O.L

"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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