British Citizenship by Birth or Descent

British nationality law is complex, due mainly to the UK’s colonial legacy. There are even types of British citizenship that do not permit the holder to live permanently in the UK. So who does qualify for full British citizenship through birth or descent?

The professional immigration and citizenship lawyers at Latitude Law will be able to help you understand whether you are entitled to British citizenship by birth or descent. To speak to a solicitor, contact us today by calling 0044 161 234 6800 or 0044 207 046 7185, or fill in our online enquiry form to request a call back.


What is British citizenship by birth?

The first thing to note is that not everyone born in the UK since January 1983 will automatically acquire British citizenship. At the time of the birth, at least one parent must be either settled here (hold indefinite leave to remain or settled status under EU rules) or must themselves be a British national for their British-born child to be British.

A child born in the UK whose parents are not settled, but whose parents subsequently acquired permanent residence, will in most instances be entitled to register as British; a fee is payable.

A child whose parents are not settled at the time of the birth, and has lived in the UK continuously for the first 10 years of their life, will also be entitled to register as a British citizen, regardless of the status of their parents.

What is British citizenship by descent?

British citizenship by descent is held by children of parents who were – at the time of the child’s birth abroad – British by birth, registration or naturalisation. Broadly speaking, British citizenship is only passed on to one generation, meaning citizens by descent cannot pass on their British citizenship to their children who were born outside of the UK. If the child is a citizen of a Commonwealth country, they may be entitled to residence under UK ancestry rules, but only once they turn 17 years old.

Those with British citizenship by descent are not subject to immigration restrictions and have the same rights as any other British citizens, including the right to a UK passport and to vote in elections.

Who is eligible to become a British citizen by descent?

British citizenship by descent is usually automatically passed down by one generation to children born outside the UK. A parent can automatically pass on their citizenship in the following circumstances:

  • if they were born or adopted in the UK;
  • if they obtained citizenship through registration or naturalisation in the UK; or
  • if they were working as a Crown servant at the time of birth.

How to apply for British citizenship by descent

If you do not have automatic citizenship by descent, and you are eligible to register for it, you can do so by completing an online application form. The form you will need to complete will vary depending on when you were born and the way in which you qualify. You are able to apply by post; however, the processing time for postal applications is significantly longer than applying online.

In addition to completing the application form, you will normally be required to attend an appointment at UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) to have your biometric information taken – this is your photograph and fingerprints.

When making an application for British citizenship by descent, you will need to submit a number of supporting documents to prove that you meet all relevant requirements. Supporting documents can be submitted by either uploading copies of the documents via the online service or by having them scanned during your UKVCAS appointment.

Applicants over the age of 18 will also be required to attend a British citizenship ceremony once an application has been completed successfully. There is an additional £80 fee for this.

How to prove automatic British citizenship

If you have automatically acquired British citizenship, you can prove this by either applying for a British passport or by applying for a certificate of entitlement to the right of abode. Those under the age of 16 will need to apply for a child’s passport, while those over 16 will require an adult passport. Applications can be made online or by post.

If you do not wish to apply for a passport, a certificate of entitlement can be placed in your overseas passport to prove you are not subject to UK immigration control.

Why choose Latitude Law?

If you’re looking to apply for British citizenship by birth or descent, it is important that you make a suitable application to stand the best chance of success. Our solicitors have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of nationality law, allowing us to provide expert support in relation to the laws that govern citizenship by birth or descent in the UK. We make sure that we pull out all the stops to ensure your British citizenship application has the best chance of success.

Our nationality solicitors will help you understand obtaining citizenship by birth or descent in plain English. We will advise and assist you at every step, ensuring your application isn’t rejected due to an oversight or technicality.

FAQs about British citizenship by birth or descent

What is British citizenship by double descent?

British citizenship by double descent is when a person is eligible for British citizenship based on having a British grandparent. Eligibility for citizenship by double descent depends on several factors, including when you were born.

Those born after 1st January 1983 could be eligible for citizenship by double descent if either:

  • You had a UK-born grandfather who was in the Crown Service at the time of a parent’s birth
  • You or a parent were born abroad but in a former British colony
  • Your parents had a UK-born mother and father who was not British-born but was registered as a citizen between 2nd February and 31st December 1982

If you were born before 1st January 1983, you may be eligible to claim British citizenship under the following circumstances:

  • You/your parent was born in a form British territory
  • You/your parent was registered as a British citizen
  • One of your parents was in Crown Service when you were born

Our nationality solicitors specialise in citizenship tracing cases, and can review your family history in order to provide a report on your potential eligibility – either to automatic citizenship, or entitlement to register as a British citizen.

Contact Latitude Law

To speak to a solicitor about whether you are eligible for British citizenship through birth or descent, get in touch with us today by calling 0044 161 234 6800 or 0044 207 046 7185, or fill in our online enquiry form to request a call back.

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All content on this page was reviewed by Latitude Law and is accurate as of 19/12/2022