A British citizen has the right to permanently live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions, otherwise known as a right of abode. Depending on your current citizenship status or nationality, eg, if you are married to a British citizen or have been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), you may be able to apply for British citizenship through either the process of naturalization or registration.

NATURALISATION – there are various requirements you must meet to be eligible to apply for naturalization. You must:

  • Be aged 18 or over
  • Be of sound mind & good character
  • Intend to continue living in the UK
  • Have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK
  • Be able to acceptably communicate in English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic
  • Meet the residential qualifying period of 5 years (3 for spouses/civil partners of a British citizen)

SPOUSES OF BRITISH CITIZEN: foreign spouses need to spend 3 years in the UK (not 5 years) and to have an ILR. There is no need to wait for 1 year after an ILR. There are still rules on absences and criminal offences/civil penalties etc. For those issued a first Spouse/Partner/Fiancee visa after 9 July, 2012 waiting time will be 5 years because spouses/partners will be getting an ILR only after 5 years in the UK (not after 2 years as it used to be).

The above applies only to spouses (married) and civil partners of UK citizens. Unmarried Partners need to comply with the general rules (5 years of residency and 1 year after an ILR). This is different from the Rules for an ILR where rules are the same for unmarried partners as for (married) spouses.

EUROPEAN CITIZEN: same rules apply as for others (5 years of residency and 1 year after it). It is normally more complicated because most EU citizens do not have UK visa stamps in their passports (normally, because they don’t need them).

While it makes their life easier here it makes a Citizenship application more complex. So, EU citizens need to show they had ‘exercised European Treaty rights’ in the UK for 5 years, at which point they would be considered as a permanent resident in the UK. Like achieving an ILR but without a confirmation of it on paper. After that you need to wait for 1 year to qualify for Citizenship. All the info, such as working or studying etc, would be checked and verified.

There are options for EU citizens to apply for a formal confirmation of an immigration status but this is not compulsory.

If you are a national of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, or you are the family member of such a person, and you have exercised EEA free-movement rights in the UK for a continuous 5 year period you will automatically have permanent residence status. However, you must hold this status for 12 months before applying for naturalisation.

REGISTRATION – you may instead be able to register as a British citizen although there are various complicated categories here including if you are a British Overseas or Overseas Territory citizen, you have previously given up your citizenship, you are a person who is stateless or a child under 18. Each category has different requirements that must be met.

IMMIGRATION TIME RESTRICTIONS – when applying for British citizenship you must be free from immigration time restrictions on the day you make your application which often means having gained settled status before you apply.

GOOD CHARACTER REQUIREMENT – any applicant aged 10 or over must be of good character to apply for British citizenship. Essentially this means that you must show respect for the rights and freedom of the UK, have observed its laws and fulfilled your duties and obligations as a resident. The UK Border Agency will carry out criminal and financial checks.

SOUND MIND REQUIREMENT – applicants must satisfy the full capacity requirement when applying for British citizenship (although in some cases this may be overlooked). This means that you are able to make your own decisions and understand the step you are taking.

DUAL NATIONALITY – to become a British citizen you do not need to renounce your existing citizenship as many countries will let you have dual nationality. If you are a national of a country who does not allow this, your country of origin may regard you as having lost your existing nationality or refuse to recognise your new nationality. If you are currently a British citizen you will not normally lose this status if you become the citizen of another country unless the new country requires you to give up your British nationality.

PROVING BRITISH CITIZENSHIP – once you have obtained British citizenship you will be free from UK immigration control and you will be able to apply for a British passport. This is the most acceptable evidence of British citizenship although, alternatively, you may be able to apply for a nationality status document if you do not have the right documentation to apply for a passport.

British nationality law and applications for British citizenship can be extremely complex and using the services of an immigration expert is highly recommended.