Only British citizens (and some other British subjects with qualifying connections e.g. a parent or spouse) have the automatic right to live and work in the UK. Whether you are already a British citizen is determined through a straightforward application of the British Nationality Act 1981, and relates to your date and place of birth and descent. If you were born in the UK before 1 January 1981, you are most likely a British citizen. If your date of birth is after 1 January 1981, you are only a British citizen if at the time of your birth one of your parents was either a British citizen themselves or settled in the UK. There are other rules relating to children born in the EU or Commonwealth countries, but generally speaking you need to have a parent with British citizenship themselves.
All those who are over 18, have lived in the UK for more than five years (or three if married to a British citizen) can apply to be ‘naturalised’ as British citizens. You will need to prove that:
- You are of sound mind;
- You have been resident in the UK for a specific proportion of the last five years (e.g. with no gaps of more than three months), and intend to remain in the UK;
- You can communicate in English (or Welsh, or Gaelic) to an acceptable degree;
- You are of ‘good character’ (i.e. no criminal record); and
- You have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK, as evidenced by taking the required tests.
Applications can be made through the Nationality Checking Service run by your local council, a registered representative or simply made yourself. It is best to always have your application checked if you are sending it yourself, as the UK Border Agency (UK BA) will charge you for each application. Complex cases should always be made through representatives such as your solicitor.
If you believe that you have a claim to British nationality but have not got the required documents to apply for a British passport, you can apply for a nationality status certificate. If you are eligible to apply for a British passport for the first time, you will need to attend an interview with the Identity and Passport Service. The process may take up to six weeks, so it is important to arrange it well in advance.
If your application is refused, UK BA will give reasons for the refusal which you can appeal against if you feel the decision is incorrect. Appeals should always be made through a legal representative so that you can make sure you have the strongest possible case. Should you be found to have obtained your British nationality fraudulently, or the UK BA feel that it is not in the public interest that you retain your British nationality, they are entitled to remove that right. You may lose your right to remain in the UK and in serious cases may be removed from the UK.