British citizenship by double descent open to thousands of South Africans

*This content is brought to you by Sable International. They are London-based specialists with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Melbourne. 

By Philip Gamble

After years of gender discrimination in British nationality law which prevented thousands of South Africans from claiming British citizenship by double descent, the UK’s Supreme Court has fixed one of the injustices. This new route to UK citizenship affects thousands of previously ineligible people across the world. If you have a mother who is British by descent (i.e. your mother inherited British citizenship from her father who was born in the UK) then you could have a claim to a British passport.

Eliminating decades-long gender discrimination

British nationality law has historically favoured the paternal line. To put it in perspective, before 1983 UK citizenship could not be transferred through the female line, only through the male line. However, legislation was passed in 1983 (and again in 2003) to address instances of gender discrimination in these century-old rules and regulations around citizenship.

Despite the legislators’ best intentions, many examples of gender discrimination still exist. Applications for British citizenship by descent through a grandmother have been rejected by the Home Office. This iniquitous set of circumstances led to much disappointment for people who, had their personal circumstances just been slightly different, would have had a valid claim to British nationality.

We’ve seen the effect that this arbitrary discrimination has had on applicants. My team and I have helped thousands of people from around the world apply for British citizenship. It was easy to sympathise with people who were told they were not eligible for British citizenship simply because they were applying for it through their mother’s (and not their father’s) grandfather.

Read also: Claiming British citizenship: Expert explains what you need to know

There is no good reason, other than legislative oversight and outdated social norms, to prevent such unfairness. This is why the UK’s Supreme Court ruled to remove this particular form of discrimination.

This recent ruling must be hailed as a landmark case. Not only has it paved the way for thousands of South Africans with a maternal grandfather born in the UK to claim British citizenship by double descent, but it strikes yet another blow against arbitrary gender discrimination in British nationality law.

Are you eligible for British citizenship by double descent?

Broadly, you need to meet the following criteria to qualify for British citizenship under this new ruling:

  • You were born in a foreign country (which includes South Africa between 31 May 1962 and 31 December 1982);
  • You were born between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982; and
  • Your maternal grandfather was born in the UK.

However, British nationality law is extraordinarily complex and there are hundreds of different ways in which you could claim a British passport. Inheriting British citizenship through a grandparent is just one such way. Just last year we had a particularly interesting case in which a man inherited British citizenship from someone he wasn’t even related to.

While your claim may be valid, it will be complex

Although claims can now be made through the maternal grandfather, this is still a complex route to citizenship. It requires gathering the correct documentation. What’s more, it is based on case law and not regular legislation, this means each case will have to be proved on its own merits – it doesn’t even have its own application form.

If you meet the criteria outlined above, we advise you to get in touch with our registered British citizenship caseworkers who can analyse and assist with your individual case. If you’d like to get started right away, you can fill in our free British citizenship assessment by following this link.