Claim British citizenship for you and your family while you still can

* This content is brought to you by Sable International, a professional services company that has a team of UK immigration and citizenship experts in both Cape Town and London. If you or a family member is thinking of securing a second passport they can assist.

By Reg Bamford*

Reg Bamford

In these uncertain times, having dual citizenship can be a great way for South Africans to keep their options open. Many South Africans have links to the UK and are often pleasantly surprised to be told that they have a claim to British citizenship. With a British passport in hand, you’ll be able to live, work and travel around the world with much more freedom than your “Green Mamba” will allow.

It may sound incredible, but there are over 100 ways to claim British citizenship. Some are well-known, others are more unusual. Either way, if you have a family connection with the UK, you (or a family member) could be in luck.

Before we start, you should note that the provisions in British nationality law for children under the age of 18 mean that it is much easier to apply for British citizenship before a child turns 18. After they turn 18, several rights to British nationality fall away. So, it’s always best to investigate your child’s rights to British citizenship sooner rather than later.

Let’s have a look at some of the ways you can claim British citizenship.

Some unusual ways to claim British citizenship

  • Adoption

If you were adopted outside of the UK, you will have to rely on your biological parents for rights to British citizenship. If you were adopted before 1983 by a UK-born parent, and you have a connection to a Commonwealth country (other than South Africa), then you could get a status called the UK Right of Abode.

If a child is adopted and at least one of the adoptive parents is a British citizen at the time of the adoption court order, then the prospects are promising.

Adoption in circumstances where neither parent is a British citizen gets a little more complicated. You should check with a British nationality expert to figure out what can and can’t be done.

  • Children of unmarried fathers

Before July 2006, claims to citizenship through British fathers were only possible where the parents were married at the time of the applicant’s birth. However, from 1 July 2006, new legislation was made which allows a child to claim citizenship through their father, regardless of the parents’ marital status at the time of birth.

In 2014, further changes were made to allow those born before July 2006 to have a claim to citizenship. This means that it is now possible for those born before July 2006 to claim citizenship where they can prove their relationship to their father.

  • Crown service

If you have a UK-born parent or grandparent who was employed by the UK government at the time of your (or your parent’s) birth, you may be eligible for British citizenship. Crown service is employment in the service of the Crown under His Majesty’s Government. It can include service in the following organisations:

  • British military
  • Overseas civil service
  • Colonial Service
  • Diplomatic Corp
  • Salvation Army
  • British South Africa Police (BSAP)
  • Red Cross
  • Church Army
  • Recognised international organisations

Do note: This list is not exhaustive and there are many other applicable organisations.

  • Statelessness

Someone who is stateless is someone who does not have a nationality. This arises most commonly at birth, where the status of the parents and the laws of the country of birth result in the child not acquiring the nationality held by their parents, nor that of their country of birth.

In these cases, it may be possible to register as a British citizen. It’s very important to address this before the stateless child turns 18, as adults who are stateless will have a much harder time trying to claim British citizenship.

  • Paternal grandfather born in the UK

Those born after 1948 to a mother who was married to a British man before 1949 may be eligible for British citizenship. It appears odd that the claim comes down the maternal side of the family, not the father’s line, but that’s what the law says.

Bizarrely, these claims are also possible through a mother’s previous marriage – meaning that if your mother was previously married to a British man, you may still have a claim to citizenship. So your claim comes from someone outside of your family tree!

Common ways to claim British citizenship

The following three routes are the bread and butter of British citizenship applications. They are particularly popular with South Africans.

  • Citizenship by descent

You can apply for citizenship by descent if you were born outside of the UK to a parent who was born in the UK. It gets more complicated if your British parent was born outside of the UK.

Do note: Exceptions also apply if your parents were unmarried at the time of a child’s birth. This can, depending on when you were born, have an important effect on your citizenship application.

  • Citizenship by double descent

British nationality law allows claims to come from a UK-born grandparent (known as double descent).

If you were born after 1 January 1983, you may have a claim to British citizenship if:

  • You or a parent were born in a former British colony
  • Your grandmother was born in the UK, and your relevant parent was registered as a child before 1983
  • You have a UK-born grandfather who was in Crown service at the time of your parent’s birth

If you were born before 1 January 1983, you may have a claim to British citizenship if:

  • You or a parent were born in a former British territory (a colony or Protectorate, for example – but excluding the main Commonwealth countries like South Africa, Australia, Canada, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand)
  • You or a parent were registered as a British citizen, a citizen of the UK and colonies (CUKC), or a federal citizen of Rhodesian and Nyasaland

In all cases, it is important to take action before a child turns 18.

  • Citizenship through naturalisation

To naturalise as a British citizen, you will first need to hold indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status. ILR can be thought of as a permanent residence status in the UK and it allows a holder to remain in the UK for an indefinite period of time.

After holding ILR for a year, and being resident in the UK for the last five years, you can register as a British citizen. During those five years, you may not have been outside the UK for more than 450 days, and for no more than 90 days in the 12 months prior to your citizenship application.

You will also have to meet the following criteria in order to apply for citizenship:

  • You must meet the good character requirement
  • You must be over 18 years old
  • You must pass the Life in the UK test
  • You must pass the English language test
  • You must intend to live in the UK

Find out if you’re eligible for British citizenship

If you have some family connection to the UK and are interested in having your claim to British citizenship explored, I suggest you book yourself a seat at one of Philip Gamble’s talks in November. Philip is the leading expert in complex British nationality law and will be holding a series of free seminars in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town.

The seminars will cover the ins and outs of UK immigration and British citizenship. After the presentation, Philip will be available for an in-depth Q&A session, where you will be able to ask specific questions relating to your unique circumstances.

If you want to know more about claiming British citizenship, or are interested in the possibility of immigrating to the UK, book your spot now.

  • Reg Bamford is the CEO of Sable International.
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