British citizenship by registration
Before 1st January 1983 any child born in the UK was automatically a British citizen. This changed with the introduction of the British Nationality Act (BNA) 1981 which came into force on 1st January 1983.
Under the BNA 1981 (current law), when a child is born in the UK, the child is automatically British when one or both of their parents is British or settled (i.e. have a right to remain in the UK indefinitely) at the time of their birth. In addition, when a child was born before 1st July 2006, and is relying on the father being British or settled, the father had to be married to the child’s mother at the time of birth or to marry her later. You may find some more information about this scenario in the paragraph further below.
A child born to a British or settled parent can apply for a British passport straightaway as this child was already born British. In other cases it is necessary to look into whether a child can be registered as a British citizen to then allow the child to apply for a British passport. We provide more information about the registration options further below.
here are some points to note on the rule above:
- A child born in the UK before 1 July 2006 is automatically British if they were born to a British or settled mother.
- A child born in the UK before 1 July 2006 to a British or settled father will only be automatically British if the child’s parents were married at the time of the birth, or later marry.
- On 6 April 2015 there were changes in the law introduced, and a child born before 1 July 2006 to a British or settled father who was not married to the mother can apply to register as British by entitlement. This application is free of charge. To summarise this, a child of an unmarried father needs to first register as British and only then can apply for a British passport.
Who can register as British
Children who are not automatically born British, may be able to register as British. The registration is required first before the child can apply for a British passport.
Some children can apply to register as British by entitlement. It is called ‘registration by entitlement’ because when a child meets the specified requirements, the registration must be granted and there is no discretion on the Home Office side.
Registration by entitlement
Most common situations when children can apply to register by entitlement are as follows:
- A child born in the UK whose parent or parents become British or settled after the child’s birth. The child can apply to register under section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act 1981 using Form MN1. The application has to be submitted while the child is under 18.
- A child born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 who has lived in the UK until the age of ten. The child must not have been absent from the UK for more than 90 days in any one of the ten years. The child in such circumstances can apply to register under section 1(4) of the BNA 1981. It is important to note that this application can also be made by applicants over 18 who meet the requirements.
Registration by discretion
Children who do not meet the requirements to register by entitlement can apply to register at discretion. Section 3(1) of the BNA 1981 gives the Home Office a complete discretion to register any child as British. Section 3(1) states as follows: ‘If while a person is a minor an application is made for his registration as a British citizen, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, cause him to be registered as such a citizen.’
There are some specific scenarios listed in the Home Office guidance when the Home Office can use their discretion under section 3(1) (e.g. if the child’s father was not married to the mother and none of the specific law applies allowing to register the child, then section 3(1) should be used to register the child).
If none of the specific scenarios apply, the child can still be register under section 3(1) within the ‘other applications’ category. The Home Office has complete discretion to register any child and must consider each case individually. The following are the general criteria under the section 3(1) ‘other applications’:
- Future intentions – the child’s future should clearly be in the UK.
- The child’s parents’ circumstances – Citizenship and immigration status of the parents is important. It is normally expected that one parent is or is about to become British and the other is settled or at least is ‘unlikely in the short or medium term to be returnable to his or her country of origin’.
- Residence in the UK – children aged 13 and over are normally expected to have lived in the UK for at least two years. Residence is less important for children under 13.
- Immigration status of the child – It is normally expected that a child has no restriction on the length of time they can stay in the UK (i.e. they are considered as ‘Settled’ in the UK, so this normally means they have an Indefinite Leave to Remain).
- Good character – This becomes more important the closer the child is to 18.
- Parental consent – The Home Office will normally expect consent of both parents.
- The best interests of the child – any compelling compassionate circumstances raised as part of the application
The ‘good character’ requirement applies to children from the age of 10. Depending on individual circumstances in each case, the ‘good character’ requirement can be complex and legal advice should be sought if it may affect an application.
Application for a British passport
After a child’s registration is granted they receive a registration certificate and they can apply for a British passport using the passport application process. The passport application can be submitted online but the supporting documents must be posted as originals to the HMPO.