Section 6 of the British Nationality Act 1981 deals with UK naturalisation, the process by which most adults will become British citizens. There are two routes for naturalisation, by being a resident in the UK under Section 6(1) BNA 1981 or, where the applicant is the spouse of a British citizen, Section 6(2). The requirements for each route are then set out in Schedule 1 to the BNA 1981.
In addition to naturalisation requirements as to length and continuity of residence and immigration status:
- an individual must be of good character,
- have sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language and of life in the UK; and
- intend to make their principal home in the United Kingdom (if they are not married to a British citizen), or, if they intend to live abroad, that they work in Crown service or for a UK enterprise.
UK Naturalisation based on residence
The naturalisation requirements of residence for those not applying as spouses are set out in Schedule 1, paragraph 2 of the BNA 1981
- subject to subsection (3), that he was in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the period of five years ending with the date of the application and that the number of days absent from the United Kingdom in that period does not exceed 450; and
- that the number of days on which he was absent from the United Kingdom in twelve months does not exceed 90; and
- that he was not at any time in the period of twelve months so ending subject under the immigration laws to any restriction on the period for which he might remain in the United Kingdom;
- that he was not any time in the period of five years so ending in the United Kingdom in breach of the immigration laws.
However, there is discretion to treat these conditions as satisfied despite insufficient periods of time accumulated depending on the individual circumstances.
Naturalisation based on marriage to British Citizen
Section 6(2) BNA 1981 deals with applications of persons ‘married to a British citizen’. The required residence period is 270 days, with the references to five years replaced by three years, in sub-paragraphs (a) and (d).
The restriction at 3(c) is lifted so that there is no requirement to be free from immigration control (i.e. to have indefinite leave to remain) for 12 months before the date of application, with the practical consequence that a spouse can apply from the grant of indefinite leave to remain without waiting for a further year.
There is no requirement to make the UK their permanent home, though spouses must still meet the requirements of good character, English language proficiency, and the requisite knowledge of life in the UK.
British Naturalisation for EU nationals
Two important considerations exist for EEA/EU nationals and their family members who wish to naturalise.
Firstly, is naturalising a good idea? This matters for those whose country of nationality does not provide for dual nationality (e.g. Austria and the Netherlands). They should carefully weigh the pros and cons of naturalisation, given Brexit and the loss of their free movement rights.
Secondly, when can they apply? It had long been understood that permanent residence is recognised by the issue of a permanent residence card – not created by the card. So you might have thought that the question was entitlement to permanent residence, not possession of a card that matters.
However, the British Nationality (General) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/1806) require that applicants must be issued with a permanent residence (PR) document to establish they are free from immigration control restrictions. This requirement could unfairly delay a nationality application if a person were required to show one year’s freedom from immigration control before making the nationality application. However, this has been addressed by the SSHD now, who will provide a letter stating the date on which permanent residence is deemed to have been acquired when issuing a permanent residence card.
Breach of Immigration Laws
Where there are British citizenship qualifying periods to be met, periods spent in the relevant territory ‘in breach of the immigration laws do not count. The meaning of ‘in breach of the immigration laws for the specific purpose of calculating residence is set out in Section 50A(4) of the BNA 1981.
The Nationality policy: Naturalisation as a British citizen by discretion sets out the circumstances in which one is considered to be in breach of immigration law in the qualifying period, and this, notably, includes those who have claimed asylum whilst in the UK illegally. Even if granted temporary admission or immigration bail during the consideration of their claim, the policy considers them in breach until leave to remain was granted. There is some discretion to disregard such ‘unlawful residence’, however, where the claim was made within one month of clandestine arrival or longer if there were ‘extenuating circumstances’. Other circumstances in which unlawful residence may be disregarded include where the applicant
- Was a minor at the time, or a victim of domestic violence whose abusive partner prevented a renewal of leave
- Had an application invalidated but a fresh application was submitted within 28 days if before 24 November 2016
- Made a late application, subsequently granted, no more than 28 days after overstaying began (14 if overstaying ended on or after 24 November 2016)
Unlawful residence during the qualifying period, unless exempt by discretion, do not count towards the qualifying period; but these, as well as other breaches of immigration law, are also taken into account in assessing ‘good character’.
The Good Character Requirement
Good character will be an issue in applications to naturalise in the UK and register for those aged 10 years or over (by reason of Section 41A of the BNA 1981). ‘Good character’ is not defined in legislation and the policy is now contained in Nationality Policy Good character requirement. This leaves the Secretary of State with enormous discretion.
The good character test gauges a person’s behaviour before and after they arrive in the UK. It is not unusual, for instance, for a person recognised as a refugee to be refused citizenship due to events they disclosed as part of their asylum claim.
All minor criminal convictions, including spent convictions, must be declared (immigration and nationality decisions being exempted from section 4 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974).
Broadly, convictions will be dealt with as below:
|Sentence||Impact on Nationality applications|
|4 years or more imprisonment||The application will normally be refused, regardless of when the conviction occurred.|
|Between 12 months and 4 years imprisonment||Application will normally be refused unless 15 years have passed since the end of the sentence.|
|Up to 12 months imprisonment||Applications will normally be refused unless 10 years have passed since the end of the sentence.|
|A non-custodial offence or other out of court disposal that is recorded on a person’s criminal record||Applications will normally be refused if the conviction occurred in the last 3 years.|
The guidance explains that some minor convictions may be disregarded, and helpful advice is given on the effect of receiving a fixed penalty and similar notices, which ‘do not form part of a person’s criminal record as there is no admission of guilt’. It also clarifies that the ‘end of the sentence’ is not the release date but the end of the sentence imposed and that a suspended prison sentence is treated to fall within row 4 of the table above.
Checks are made on financial impropriety. A bankrupt will, where there has been fraud or they were discharged less than ten years ago, be of insufficiently good character.
The person’s immigration history will also be considered. In a major amendment to the good character guidance introduced in December 2014, citizenship will normally be refused ‘if within the ten years preceding the application the person has not been compliant with immigration requirements’. All breaches will be considered, including illegal entry, failure to report, breach of conditions, overstaying, and failure to report.
The good character requirement has been extended to include children aged ten and over (who will apply to register rather than naturalise).
Sufficient Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK
Under Schedule 1 of the BNA 1981, all applicants for naturalisation must show sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic and ‘sufficient knowledge about life in the UK’.
The British Nationality (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 provide that the language and life in the UK tests are met in pretty much the same way as under Appendix KoLL for a person applying for settlement. Where the Appendix KoLL provisions have been met, an applicant for naturalisation will not have to meet them again.
To pass the English language requirement, applicants must either come from an English-speaking country listed in Schedule 2A to the Regulations or have a degree taught in English or pass a test specified in Schedule 2A (excluding those provided by the Educational Testing Service). The applicant must have passed the Life in the UK test for the life in the UK element.
The Home Office possesses the discretion to waive the language requirement where it would be unreasonable to expect the applicant to fulfil it because of age or physical or mental condition. The language requirement will normally be waived when the applicant is 65 or over.
The grounds for exemption of younger people need to be compelling, such as where the applicant:
- is suffering from a long-term illness or disability which severely restricts mobility and ability to attend language classes; or
- suffers from a speech impediment which limits the ability to converse in the relevant language; or
- has a mental impairment, which means they cannot learn another language.
Intention to live in the UK
If a person is abroad or about to go abroad, it may be essential to explain this. For example, caring for someone who is ill or dying overseas is likely to be a temporary absence and should not be treated as evidence that a person has no intention to live in the UK. For guidance, consult Naturalisation nationality policy guidance.
The BNA 1981 at Section 42 to 42B and Schedule 5 provides that anyone over the age of 18 who acquires British citizenship, whether by registration or naturalisation, must do so at a public ceremony and is required to take the Oath of Allegiance (there is an affirmation to be used by people of different religions and none) and now a new pledge as set out in these provisions. Section 6 of the Become a British citizen guidance has further details. Ceremonies are normally held in groups, although arrangements can be made (at a price) to have individual ceremonies. People can invite guests. A fee is payable.
Section 42(2) of the 1981 Act allows for some exemptions. These are:
- those not of full age; or
- those who are already:
- British citizens; or
- British Overseas Territories citizens; or
- British Nationals (Overseas); or
- British Overseas citizens; or
- British subjects under the 1981 Act; or
- citizens of any country of which Her Majesty is Queen (Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.)
Where an applicant is required to take an oath of allegiance s/he must generally do so within the time limit of three months prescribed by the British Nationality (General) Regulations 1982 (or the British Nationality (General) Regulations) 2003, as appropriate). Otherwise the applicant cannot be registered or naturalised unless the Home Secretary decides to extend the period. Notification letters will advise the applicant to contact the local authority to arrange a ceremony. The Home Office will also notify the local authority.
If a person does not attend a citizenship ceremony within the time limit permitted, the Home Office should notify them that it will not be possible to become a British citizen because the Home Secretary is not able to register or naturalise a person who has not attended a ceremony and taken an oath/pledge. If the applicant still wishes to become a British citizen and has an entitlement at the date of application, a certificate may be issued at any time based on the original application on payment of the fee and attending a citizenship ceremony and making an oath/pledge. In all other cases, the applicant will need to re-apply under an appropriate provision of the legislation.
In exceptional circumstances, an exemption may be made in respect of any or all of the following:
- the requirement to attend a citizenship ceremony
- the requirement to make an oath of allegiance and pledge
- the time limit for attending a ceremony.
- British Citizenship by Naturalisation Requirements
- Referees in British Citizenship Applications
- British Citizenship Applications Mistakes to avoid
- Apply for a UK Passport
Frequently asked questions
Unfortunately, there is no fast-track service to reduce the Home Office processing time for Naturalisation applications.
Most simple applications may be decided within two months, and more complex can take up to 6 months.
Yes, once you have applied for British Citizenship, you can travel outside the UK while your application is pending. When you apply for British Citizenship, you can submit a full certified copy of your passport and keep your original passport with you. You can then use your original passport to travel overseas.