British Citizenship for Children
When it comes to getting the first British passport for your child, the first question that arises is whether your child needs to be first registered as a British citizen or if they can apply for a passport straight away. While it may seem like a simple question, the answer is not always straightforward, and it is crucial to understand that your child’s eligibility for a British passport is determined by their citizenship status.
The basic rule is that your child needs to have British citizenship before they can get a UK passport. In most cases, children are British citizens since birth and do not need to be registered. However, not all children have acquired British citizenship automatically, and some will need to be registered as such before they can apply for a passport.
Do I need to register my child as a British citizen before applying for a British passport?
If a child is born in the UK to a parent who is a British citizen, settled in the UK at the time of the child’s birth, or is a member of the UK armed forces, they will automatically be a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’. This means that if you were a British citizen or settled in the UK when your child was born, your child will have acquired British citizenship automatically and does not need to be registered.
Similarly, where the child is adopted in the UK, and at least one adoptive parent is a British citizen, the child will also be a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ on adoption and does not need to be registered.
While some children born in the UK to EEA or Swiss nationals settled in the UK will acquire British citizenship automatically, the changes in the nationality law following Brexit imply that the rules differ based on when the child was born and the parent’s immigration status at the time of birth.
For example, if you obtained settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme following your child’s birth, your child will automatically be a British citizen as long as:
a) Your child was born after 30 June 2021, AND
b) You were eligible for Settled Status on 30 June 2021, irrespective of whether you had applied for it by then or not.
The British nationality law also allows for the transmission of British citizenship to the next generation. So, a child born abroad to a parent who is British ‘otherwise than by descent’ will automatically be considered a British ‘by descent’, even if they have never lived in the UK or have no other ties to the country. In other words, the child will have acquired British citizenship because of their parent’s citizenship.
In all the cases mentioned above, your child is already considered a British citizen, and there is no need to apply for registration for them. Rather, you can simply apply for their first British passport on the His Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) website.
Is my child British ‘by descent’ or ‘otherwise than by descent’?
I have mentioned throughout this article the terms ‘by descent’ and ‘otherwise than by descent’ in relation to British citizenship, but what does that really mean?
Well, as a starting point, every person who is a British citizen is either:
1. British citizen by descent, or
2. British citizen otherwise than by descent.
The key difference between the two is that a British citizen by descent is unable to pass their citizenship to their children born outside of the UK, except in cases where their child is born to a parent in crown designated or EU service.
In most cases, a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ refers to an individual who obtained British citizenship through birth, adoption, naturalization, or registration in the UK or a British Overseas territory. On the other hand, individuals who are born outside the UK to a parent who is British ‘otherwise than by descent’ are usually considered British citizens by descent.
It is important to note that there may be exceptions to these general rules. As such, it is recommended to seek legal advice to verify the exact British citizenship status of your child to determine whether they could pass on their citizenship to the next generation.
Registration as a British Citizen
If your child is not automatically a British citizen, then you will need to register them as one. This process is called ‘registration as a British citizen’, and involves filling out an online application form, providing supporting documents, and paying the relevant Home Office fees.
The registration process varies depending on when and where your child was born, your immigration status, and their other specific circumstances. However, one important requirement is that your child is under the age of 18 at the time of the application.
If your child is over 18, they would need to apply independently as an adult for naturalisation. Our five-part blog series titled ‘The Road to Naturalisation’ provides useful information on the requirements and procedures for this process.
It is worth noting that if the child is aged 10 or over at the date of application, they must satisfy the ‘good character’ requirement. This means that they must not have any criminal convictions or have engaged in any other activities that could call into question their character.
If my child was born in the UK
If your child was born in the UK, you can register them for British citizenship as long as one of the following applies:
1. You or their other parent become ‘settled in the UK’ after the child is born.
2. The child was born after 1 July 2006, and would have become a British citizen automatically if their mother had not been married to someone other than their biological father.
3. The child was born on or after 13 January 2010, and you or their other parent joined the UK armed forces after your child was born.
4. Your child lived in the UK from when they were born until they reached 10 years old, irrespectively of whether you or your child have the right to live in the UK permanently.
If my child was born outside the UK
If your child was born outside the UK, you can apply to register them as a British citizen if:
1. You are British or applying to become British, and your child’s other parent is either British or ‘settled in the UK’.
2. You are British by descent, and either you lived in the UK for 3 years at any time before your child was born, or your family came to live in the UK for 3 years after your child was born.
3. You, your child and the child’s other parent are all ‘settled in the UK’. In particular, you must all have 5 years of lawful and continuous residence in the UK, and your child must have been ‘settled in the UK’ for 1 year.
4. You, your child and the child’s other parent are all living in the UK legally, and your child has lived here for the last 10 years.
You are considered 'settled in the UK' if:
To clarify, having ‘settled status’ or being considered as having ‘settled status in the UK’ depend on the following:
a) Whether one holds a British citizenship.
b) You are an Irish citizen living in the UK.
c) You have indefinite leave to remain (or Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme).
d) You have permanent residence in the UK.
e) You have the right to abode in the UK.
What if my child does not meet the eligibility criteria for citizenship?
In some cases, a child may not be eligible for British citizenship based on the standard eligibility criteria. However, certain special or compassionate circumstances could warrant an exception to be made. For example, if your child needs British citizenship in order to join the Armed Forces or represent the UK in an international sporting event, the Home Office may consider making an exception to the standard eligibility requirements. It is important to note that such exceptions are considered on a case-by-case basis, and the Home Office will carefully assess each application before making a decision.
Registering your child as a British citizen can be a lengthy process, so it is important to understand the requirements and eligibility criteria before starting the application. Our experienced immigration advisers can assist you navigating through the application process, assess your individual circumstances and determine the likelihood of success in your case.
Once your child has acquired British citizenship, they can apply for a British passport and enjoy the benefits and opportunities that come with it.
- British Nationality Act 1981
- Home Office MN1 (updated January 2023) – Registration as a British citizen – A guide about the registration of children under 18
- Home Office Guide T (updated March 2019) – Registration as a British citizen – A guide for those born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 who have lived in the UK up to the age of 10
- Home Office Guide for British citizenship: Automatic acquisition (Version 6.0) (updated 23 March 2023)
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