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Not every child born in the UK after 1 January 1983 is a British citizen. Children who are not British by birth can become British citizens by registration.
Some children have the right to be registered. This is called registration by entitlement.
In some circumstances, children may be registered at the discretion of the Secretary of State. This discretion is not totally random. It has to be exercised in line with the government policy and certain considerations cannot be disregarded. This discretion only applies to children under 18.
If your child is turning 18 soon you have to act fast.
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Children born in the UK
Children born to British citizens by descent
Children born abroad to non-British parents
Children born in the UK to non-British parents who do not have indefinite leave to remain at the time of the child’s birth have the right to be registered as British citizens in the following circumstances:
This type of registration is under s. 1(3) of the British Nationality Act 1981. It is not discretionary. An application for registration under this section can be made independently of whether the child is in the UK or abroad at the time of application.
There are no residence requirements and no restrictions on absences from the UK.
If the child is over the age of 10, good character requirements apply.
The child can be registered under this section of the Nationality Act only before the age of 18. There are no concessions to this rule.
Parental consent is not mandatory in this application, but the application would normally be made by the parent or a person with parental responsibility on behalf of the child.
A person born in the UK to non-British parents, who has spent the first 10 years of life in the UK and has not been out of the country for more than 90 days in any one year during this 10-year period, is entitled to be registered as a British citizen.
- This type of registration is under s. 1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981.
- An application for registration under this section can be made at any time. There is no requirement that the child has to be under the age of 18 at the time of the application.
- The application can be made from outside the UK but it may be more challenging to gather evidence of the child’s residence in the UK during the relevant period.
- The requirement of good character applies.
- Parental consent is not mandatory.
A child born in the UK who is stateless at birth and has always remained stateless is entitled to register as a British citizen after five years of residence (Schedule 2, paragraph 3.1 of the BNA).
- This application can be made at any time before the child turns 22 (!);
- Absences from the UK during the five year period ending on the date of the application should not exceed 450 days;
- Good character requirement applies if the child is 10 years or old at the time of the application.
If you are making the application on this basis, you will need evidence that the child did not acquire at birth the nationality of either of the parents. A document confirming this should be issued by the authority of the relevant country.
A child born in the UK on or after 13 January 2010 can be registered as a British citizen if one of the parents becomes a member of the armed forces.
The child has to be under the age of 18 at the date of application.
If the child is 10 or over, good character requirement applies.
British citizenship for children born abroad to British citizens by descent
A child born abroad to a British citizen by descent has the right to be registered as a British citizen after the child has lived in the UK for three years
Children of British citizens by descent are entitled to register as British citizens once they have lived in the UK with both parents for a continuous period of three years ending on the date of the application. This registration is under s. 3(5) of the BNA 1981. Children registered under this provision will have British citizenship other than by descent.
If at the date of the application the child’s parents are divorced or legally separated, or if one of the parents has died, the reference to both parents is read as a reference to one parent. If the child was to unmarried parents, the reference to both parents reads as a reference to the child’s mother.
- The child should be under the age of 18;
- The child and both parents were in the UK at the beginning of the 3-year period ending with the date of the application;
- The child and both parents should not have been absent from the UK for more than 270 days during this three year period;
- Both parents should give consent to the application (unless they are divorced, legally separated or had never been married);
- Good character requirement applies to children over the age of 10.
- Child’s birth certificate showing the names of both parents;
- Evidence of the parent’s citizenship by descent;
- Marriage certificate of the parents (if the child was born before 1 July 2006), divorce certificate where applicable;
- Evidence of residence in the UK for three years for both parents and the child
A child born abroad to a British citizen by descent if the parent had lived in the UK for three years before the child was born
This type of registration is under s. 3(2) of the BNA 1981. This application has to be made within 12 months of the child’s birth, but the Secretary of State has discretionary power to extend this period to six years in exceptional circumstances.
A child registered under the provisions of this section will be registered as British by descent. That means that they would be unable to pass British citizenship automatically to their children born outside the UK, unless at some point of time they come to the UK and lived in the UK for three years before the birth of their children. Then they would be able to rely on the same provision for the next generation, if the law doesn’t change.
Thus, registration under this section is less favourable than under s 3(5) described in the section above. But due to time restriction on the application for registration, the parents have to make the decision rather early in the child’s life.
- The child should be born outside the UK to a British citizen by descent in the first generation;
- The parent must have lived in the UK for a continuous period of three years before the child’s birth and had not been absent from the UK for more than 270 days during this period;
- The child must be of good character if over the age of 10.
- The child’s birth certificate showing names of both parents;
- Marriage certificate of the parents if the claim is through the father;
- Evidence that one of the parents is a British citizen by descent;
- Evidence that the British grandparent was British other than by descent at the time of the birth of the child’s parent;
- Evidence that the British parent had lived in the UK for a continuous period of three years before the child’s birth.
Children born stateless outside the UK to a British citizen by descent
This registration is also under s. 3(2) of the BNA 1981 and has to be made within 12 months of the child’s birth.
- Evidence that the British parent is a British citizen by descent in the first generation;
- A letter from the authorities of the country where the child was born confirming that the child did not acquire citizenship of this country;
- If the other parent is neither a British citizen nor a national of the country of the child’s birth, a letter from the authorities of the country of nationality of the other parent confirming that the child did not acquire that country’s citizenship at birth.
Children born outside the UK to non-British parents - registration at discretion
If the child is born outside the UK to non-British parents, registration of the child as a British citizen is at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
That doesn’t mean that registration is available only in exceptional circumstances. The rules on how discretion is to be exercised are quite prescriptive and in some circumstances it may even be possible to challenge refusal to exercise discretion in favour of the child.
Normally the child is expected to be settled in the UK and apply for registration at the same time or after at least one of the parents applies for naturalisation.
The key criteria to be addressed by the decision-maker are whether the child’s future clearly lies in the UK, whether registration is in the best interests of the child and whether there are any public policy considerations against registration.
It is very important to remember that the discretionary powers of the Secretary of State only extend to acquisition of British citizenship by registration, not naturalisation. An application for registration under this section has to be made before the child turns 18.
The rules governing the discretion are both complex and fluid. It is advisable to seek professional help to ensure the best outcome of the application.
The applications are made either online or using a paper form. Where the applications are made online, the supporting documents are uploaded on the government portal. Paper forms have to be submitted by post with supporting documents enclosed.
The standard processing time of applications for the registration of children is up to six months.
The processing time is normally reduced where evidence is submitted in full and the decision-maker does not have to seek clarification or further information.
There is no right of appeal against refusal of an application for British citizenship.
However, there is a right to apply for review of the decision if the decision is not in accordance with the law or if discretion was not exercised in line with the policy.
If a review does not provide a remedy, the decision can be judicially reviewed. It is a complex application which has to be filed in High Court. You will need professional help if you consider challenging the refusal of an application for registration.
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How immigration solicitors can help with registration of a child as a British citizen
Document checking service
Some applications for registration may be relatively straightforward and you may wish to prepare the application yourself but have a lawyer check the application form and supporting documents to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Full representation in applications for registration as a British citizen
Where registration is at the discretion of the Secretary of State it is particularly important to make a convincing case for registration. Our services help ensure confidence in the right outcome and maximise the chances of success where the outcome cannot be guaranteed.