Citizenship information

How can this information help?

Citizenship information can be complicated. This page aims to make that information easier to find and understand. You can use the other resources to find organisations who may be able to offer support, and prepare to meet your legal representative.

What are the benefits of getting citizenship?

Getting British citizenship is not just about getting a passport, being able to go to university or wanting to travel. There are many more reasons why it is very likely to be a good idea for a child living here to obtain British citizenship if possible.

Citizenship is the most secure position for a child. If a person has British citizenship, they are not subject to immigration control. They do not need leave to enter or remain in the UK. They have what is called the ‘right of abode’, which means that they are free to come into, live in and leave the UK as they please. They can apply for a passport and travel, knowing that they will be able to return to the UK. They will have the protection of the state, including protection from British embassies abroad. British citizenship also brings with it the benefits of being a citizen of the European Union.

Citizenship is permanent and can only in very rare cases by revoked. By contrast, if someone has indefinite leave to remain (i.e. is settled) and they are convicted of a criminal offence, it is likely that the Home Office will consider revoking their leave and deporting them.

Obtaining British citizenship creates stability for the child, which is important for the child’s development and wellbeing. It may also be important for the child’s sense of their own identity. They may identify strongly as British.

Gaining citizenship means formally gaining equal rights in common with other citizens and opens up opportunities that someone would not otherwise have. Getting British citizenship can be important for progression in education including to university, getting access to student finance by being recognised as a ‘home’ student. Without British citizenship young people are unable to pursue certain careers, including joining the armed forces, civil service or the police. Citizenship is also important for children and young people’s political participation. Unless they are citizens, they cannot generally vote.

Being a British citizen also enables the person to more easily give British citizenship to any children they have.

When is a child born in the UK automatically British?

If a child is born in the UK on or after 1 July 2006, and one or both of their parents is British or settled (i.e. has no time restriction on their stay) [1] at the time of the birth, the child is automatically British.

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. [2] A change has been made to the law on children born before 1 July 2006 to unmarried parents, but it is not yet in force.

Before 1 January 1983 any child born in the UK was automatically a British citizen.

[1] Since 30 April 2006 a European Economic Area national with permanent residence is regarded as settled. Between 2 October 2000 and 30 April 2006 an EEA national was only regarded as settled if they had indefinite leave to remain. Prior to 2 October 2000, all EEA nationals exercising Treaty rights were regarded as settled.

[2] For a child born before 1 July 2006, section 50(9) of the British Nationality Act 1981 held that ‘the relationship of father and child shall be taken to exist between a man and any legitimate child born to him’. Section 47(1) allowed for the child to be later ‘legitimated’: ‘A person born out of wedlock and legitimated by the subsequent marriage of his parents shall, as from the date of the marriage, be treated for the purposes of this Act as if he had been born legitimate.’

Applying to become a British citizen

Children can only apply to register as British citizens. This is a different process to naturalisation – which adults typically apply for in order to become a British citizen.

The registration application can be made on behalf of the child by a parent or guardian (including a local authority guardian). You can use the check status pages and information to help you work out whether a child is likely to be able to apply. Applications are typically made with the help of a lawyer. Finding a good lawyer can help you understand the law better and improve the chance of the application being successful.

More information

The main source of law on the registration of children as British citizens is the British Nationality Act 1981, which has had various amendments made to it since it came into force on 1 January 1983. There are also various pieces of secondary legislation, Home Office guidance and case law that are relevant to children’s registration as British citizens.

Which children can apply to register?

Which children can apply to register?

There are various routes for children to register as citizens, this is an overview of some of those routes. You can use the status checking pages to work out whether a child might be able to apply by one of these routes, and finding a good lawyer could help you work out the most appropriate route and make an application that’s more likely to be approved.

Entitlement registration

Some children can apply to register by the ‘entitlement’ route. This means that if the child meets the requirements and passes the ‘good character’ test, the Home Office must register them. Children can apply to register by entitlement in a number of situations, including (but not limited to) these:

  • A child born in the UK whose parent or parents become British or settled could apply to register under section 1(3) of the British Nationality Act 1981. This is done using MN1 form. The application fee is £973 and there is no fee exemption for a child looked after by a local authority. The application has to be submitted while the child is under 18. You can use the status checking pages to work out whether a child might be able to apply by this route.
  • A child born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983, who has lived in the UK until the age of ten without absences from the UK of more than 90 days in any one of the ten years [3] could apply to register under section 1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981. This is done using Form T. The application fee is £973 for a child and there is no fee exemption for a child looked after by a local authority. The application can also be submitted by applicants over 18 who meet the requirements but the fee increases to £1053. You can use the status checking pages to work out whether a child might be able to apply by this route.

[3] There is discretion to allow longer absences.

Discretionary registration

Other children can apply to register at the discretion of the Home Office. Section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 gives the Home Office a broad discretion to register any child as British. Section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 states:

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.

A discretionary registration application is done using Form MN1. The application fee is £973 and there is no fee exemption for a child looked after by a local authority. The application has to be submitted while the child is under 18.

The Home Office must consider each application for discretionary registration individually. The Home Office will consider whether the child falls into particular categories outlined in their guidance (such as ‘minors wishing to following a particular career’). [4] If the child does not fall within a specified category, the Home Office will use their general criteria, also contained in their guidance. [5] These criteria are:

  • Future intentions. The child’s future should clearly lie in the UK.
  • Citizenship and immigration status of the parents. 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’.
  • Length of residence in the UK. Children aged 13 and over are normally expected to have lived in the UK for at least two years.
  • Conditions of stay. 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 settled).
  • ‘Good character’ (see info box below). 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.

The guidance on discretionary registration applications refers specifically to children looked after by a local authority. [6] The local authority may be asked to produce a background report for the application. The Home Office will normally require consent of all those with parental responsibility.

Some children who apply for British citizenship may already be settled. For example, they may claim asylum, be granted leave as a refugee for five years, apply for indefinite leave to remain and then wish to apply for British citizenship.

Other children may make a discretionary registration application at a time when they have no leave in the UK or only temporary leave. For example, they may have come to the UK as an infant and it may be that when they are a teenager the appropriate route for them is to apply to be registered as British. They may not appear to fit all the general criteria, but it may nonetheless be possible to argue that registration is appropriate in their case.

[4] Home Office, Nationality Instructions, Chapter 9: Registration of minors at discretion, 9.6 to 9.16.

[5] Home Office, Nationality Instructions, Chapter 9: Registration of minors at discretion, 9.17 to 9.18.

‘Good character’ requirements

NB the below refers to the application routes mentioned in ‘Which children can apply to register?’ (see info box above)

If a child is over the age of ten when they are registering as a British citizen, they will also need to meet the Home Office’s ‘good character’ requirement. Because the ‘good character’ requirement can be complex, it is likely that finding good legal advice will be particularly critical if you think a child’s application might be affected by these requirements – some of which are listed below.

The requirements

The Home Office uses the same good character standards (or requirements) for adults as children. [7] Any criminal convictions will be considered and may be grounds for refusal. In addition, the standards mention ‘illegal entry’ and ‘evasion of immigration control’.

[7] Home Office, Nationality Instructions, Chapter 9: Registration of minors at discretion, 9.17.29. The standards are set out in the Nationality Instructions, Chapter 18: Naturalisation at discretion, Annex D.

Should you talk to your child about their citizenship?

Talking about citizenship can be very stressful, particularly if you think that your children might be undocumented. Some routes to citizenship are determined by a child’s age – and at 18 years or over it can be much harder for young people to apply for citizenship. So whether you want to speak to your child or not, it will likely make things much easier for them if you are able to apply on their behalf. If you do choose to speak to them you might find these tips helpful:

Try to be calm, factual, and clear. You could use the advice and tools on this site to understand what the options are and help explain them to your child – you could even use them online together. Try to present the information clearly and calmly as your child may well be scared and need reassurance.

Try to work out the next steps. You might be able to use this site or other services in order to work out the next steps, this could help you and your child feel that you are in control. If you think your child can apply for citizenship you can try to gather the right documents (link) and find a reliable solicitor (link) who can help you.

Offer support if a child is worried or upset. The news may come as a shock to children, they maybe worried or upset and not realise that this can be stressful for their parents too. If you can stay calm and reassure them they are more likely to feel reassured and relax.

Home Office application fee

If you are eligible to apply for citizenship (you can use check my status to help you work this out), the Home Office charges £973 for an application to register a child as a British citizen. The fee payment form is separate to the T form application.

As well as the application fee, there may be legal fees if you get a private lawyer to prepare and submit the application. No legal aid is available for nationality applications. Getting a good lawyer is likely to improve the chances of your application being successful. Unfortunately there are plenty of lawyers out there who aren’t reputable, so the finding a lawyer page has information to help you find a reliable, professional lawyer. If you cannot afford to pay for a private lawyer, some charities and law centres will represent children in citizenship applications without charging legal fees. If a charity takes on the case, you may still have to pay the application fee.

If you cannot afford the application fee, you might be able to work together with a local centre to contact local organisations like churches or charities to help meet the costs. Be careful if you are trying to find funds from other sources. Loan sharks charge high rates and could even involve you in criminal activity which could affect your citizenship application. If you are concerned about the fees please contact a local centre to discuss your concerns and see if there might be any support available.