Manchester: 0161 234 6800 Liverpool: 0151 305 9600

Latitude Law
  • General Immigration

Babies, citizenship and passports; how complicated are the rules?


Just less than a year after the world was gripped by Royal Wedding fever, on 6 May Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, welcomed new Royal baby Archie Harrison. There is no question of whether Archie is British, but is that always the case? This week our blog looks at the citizenship rules surrounding children: who is British, who is not, and when do documents really matter?

Are all children who are born in the UK automatically British citizens?

Since 1 January 1983, no child born in the UK is British simply because of that. To be born British the child must also have a British parent, or at least one parent with permanent permission to live in the UK.

Children born in the UK whose parents have temporary status (or no status at all) do not automatically benefit from the place of their birth. Those children must qualify for leave to remain in the UK, usually by applying as dependants of their parents.

Families without status have a difficult time, as one would expect. The simple fact of a child’s presence in the UK is not determinative of any immigration case, although there is acknowledgement that children who live here for a significant period of time (usually considered to be 7 years or more) will find it harder to adjust to relocation, and that might lead to a grant of leave to remain. As the case law makes clear, the first 7 years of a child’s life are not as formative, and therefore not as significant, as 7 school-age years.

Are babies born outside the UK ever British citizens?

What about children who do not have the physical link of birth in the UK, are they ever British citizens? The simple answer is yes, if they have a parent who is British otherwise than by descent (eg was themselves born in the UK to British parents). However, for babies in these circumstances, they acquire a different form of citizenship; British citizenship by descent. This means that the child is in effect ‘inheriting’ their British citizenship from their parent, rather than securing it on their own. The child is no less British than any other citizen, but they have no automatic ability to pass their citizenship on to their own children, where those children are also outside the UK.

Where the child born British by descent comes to live in the UK while still under 18, in some circumstances citizenship may be ‘upgraded’, allowing the child to then pass on their citizenship.  However, specific requirements apply and families may need specialist advice in this area.

When are documents confirming citizenship important?

If wanting to travel to the UK, all children (whether British or otherwise), require evidence of their status and of their permission to enter. The recent case of a British baby stamped into the UK as a visitor is a good example of how documents are needed to assert a right of residence based on citizenship.  If the Archie had been born in the USA instead of the UK, he would not be assumed to be British on arrival here. A British passport would be needed, or confirmation of British citizenship known as a ‘certificate of entitlement’ to a right to abode.  Parents looking to travel to the UK soon after their child’s birth should note that the issue of a first passport to a child abroad can take a while – often several months.  A certificate of entitlement, endorsed in the child’s foreign passport, is often the quickest solution.

Citizenship rules for children can be confusing and complex. If you would like to speak with one of our experts, call us now on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester and London) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool) or contact us online.