For individuals who do not automatically hold British nationality by birth or descent, the most common route to British citizenship is through naturalisation.
Naturalisation is a Home Office application process requiring applicants to evidence that they meet the British citizenship eligibility criteria.
Applying for British Citizenship is a major step in your life. It is a demanding process on applicants, requiring extensive supporting documents and incurring a significant Home Office application fee. It’s important to get it right first time.
Yet British citizenship applications are commonly refused due to incorrect supporting documentation, failure to complete the form properly and failing to be responsive to Home Office enquiries.
Given the cost of making a naturalisation application, ensuring you follow the Home Office process and that your submission is complete, comprehensive and accurate will be critical to avoiding delays or even refusal.
British citizenship application process guidance
To apply to naturalise as a British citizen, you will need to complete Form AN.
After completing and submitting your application form, you also have to compile and submit extensive documentary evidence proving that you are eligible and that you meet all of the naturalisation requirements.
You will in most cases also need to book and attend an appointment at UKVCAS to submit your biometric information and supporting documents to the Home Office for processing.
Your British citizenship application will be reviewed and checked by UKVI to verify your visa status, tax status and any immigration, criminal or even civil legal issues.
If you are granted citizenship, you will receive an invitation to attend a Citizenship ceremony where you will receive your Certificate of Naturalisation.
Thereafter you are free to apply for a British passport.
For children registering as British citizens, you should use form MN1. You can submit your application at the same time as your children’s.
Are you eligible to apply for British citizenship?
Before starting your naturalisation application, you should first check that you are eligible:
|You must be at least 18 years old.
|You have spent 3 continuous years in the UK prior to your application date (the ‘qualifying period’). Your total number of absences from the UK over the qualifying period does not exceed 270 days. Your total number of absences from the UK during the 12 months prior to application does not exceed 90 days
|You must have lived in the UK for a minimum of 5 years and held a permanent residence card or EU settled status if an EEA national or indefinite leave to remain if a non-EEA national for at least 12 months prior to making your application.
|You meet the good character requirements and not have a serious or recent criminal record.
|Knowledge of language and life in the UK
|You must satisfy the English language requirements and pass the Life in the UK test.
|Compliance with immigration rules
|You have been compliant with UK immigration rules throughout the qualifying period.
|Intent to reside
|You intend to remain in the UK.
British citizenship sound mind requirement
In the event that an applicant is not of sound mind, the Home Secretary still has the discretion to waive this requirement in certain circumstances. If you are completing an application on behalf of someone who is not of sound mind and for whom you are responsible, you will need to explain the following:
- the applicant’s mental condition
- the fact that they are in your care
- reasons why it is in the applicant’s best interests to be granted British citizenship despite their inability to understand fully what is involved.
You will also need to provide documentary evidence in support of the applicant’s mental condition and their care arrangements.
What is the Life in the UK test?
Applying for British citizenship involves a commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK. The ability to communicate in English and have knowledge of life in the UK, otherwise known as the KoLL requirement, forms an integral part of this commitment.
You can satisfy these requirements by passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test, together with either obtaining an approved English speaking and listening qualification or providing evidence of a UK degree or other academic qualification deemed to be equivalent to a UK qualification taught or researched in English.
If you are a national of a majority English speaking country you will not be required to obtain any qualification, although you will still have to pass the Life in the UK test at an approved test centre.
You may be wholly exempt from this requirement if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting the English language and KoLL requirements.
The life in the UK test is a computer-based exam taken at an approved test centre. You will have to pay the fee to sit the test. The questions are multiple choice and you must score 75% to pass.
It is possible to resit if you fail, but you will have to wait 7 days to take the test again.
If you passed this test as part of your ILR application, you will not have to resit the test provided you can show your pass certificate.
Exempt from the test are applicants who are under 18 or over the age of 65, or those who have applied for exemption due to a long-term physical or mental condition.
English language requirements
Applying for British citizenship involves a commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK. The ability to communicate in English and have knowledge of life in the UK forms an integral part of this commitment.
You can satisfy these requirements by passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test, together with one of the following:
- obtaining an approved English speaking and listening qualification
- providing evidence of a UK degree or other academic qualification deemed to be equivalent to a UK qualification taught or researched in English.
If you are a national of a majority English speaking country, eg, Australia, Canada or New Zealand, you will not be required to obtain any qualification, although you will still have to pass the Life in the UK test. This test will need to be taken at a UK test centre where you will need to confirm your identity, eg, by way of a biometric residence permit, passport or other Home Office travel document.
You may be wholly exempt if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting the English language and knowledge of life in the UK requirements.
British citizenship good character requirement
To be of good character you must have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observed its laws and fulfilled your obligations as a resident of the UK. This includes not having a recent or serious criminal record.
Your application for British citizenship may be refused if you have either tried to deceive the Home Office or, alternatively, have been involved in immigration offences in the last 10 years, eg, illegally entering the UK or assisting someone in so doing.
British citizenship residence requirements
For most cases, you must have been physically present in the UK for a minimum of 5 years (or 3 years where you are married to or the civil partner of a British citizen) before the day your application is received.
To satisfy the residence requirement you should not have been absent for more than 90 days in the 12 months prior to making your application. The total number of days absence for the whole 5-year qualifying residence period should not exceed 450 days (or 270 days for the 3-year qualifying period).
In either case, you must not have been in breach of the immigration rules, ie; you must have been here legally throughout the whole qualifying period. This is especially relevant if you came to the UK as an asylum seeker and your application for refugee status and any appeals were refused during this period.
You must also be free from immigration time restrictions, ie; have indefinite leave to remain, during the last 12 months of the 5-year qualifying period (or on the date of making your application where married to or the civil partner of a British citizen).
The Home Office has some discretion to disregard excess absences, immigration breaches and immigration time restrictions. For absences in excess of the normal limits, you will need to have been resident in the UK for longer than the normal qualifying period – in some cases up to 8 years, unless there are exceptional and compelling reasons.
British citizenship for Crown and designated service
If you are in Crown or specially designated service (ie; working overseas directly for Her Majesty’s Government), you may not have to meet the residence requirements for British citizenship if you were serving outside of the UK on the date 5 years before applying.
If you are applying for British citizenship by way of naturalisation on these grounds, you will need to show:
- you are serving overseas on the date that your application is received
- you have been the holder of a responsible post overseas
- you have given outstanding service, normally over a substantial period
- you have some close connection with the UK.
You may also be exempt from certain residence requirements if you are married to or the civil partner of a British citizen in Crown or designated service. In either case, you must still satisfy all the other requirements of obtaining British citizenship by way of naturalisation.
British citizenship for EEA & Swiss nationals
For an applicant who is a national of an EEA member state or Switzerland, or a family member of a qualified national, you will be free from immigration conditions having exercised EEA free movement rights in the UK for any continuous 5-year period. By exercising your Treaty rights, this will give you permanent residence status.
To prove this status you will need to apply for a permanent residence card before applying for British citizenship. Unless you are married to or the civil partner of a British citizen, you will normally need to have held permanent resident status for 12 months prior to your application for naturalisation. This means that you may need to wait until you have been in the UK for 6 years before you can apply for British citizenship.
By way of exception, Irish citizens are not normally subject to any form of immigration control on arrival in the UK because Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area. If you are an Irish national, you do not need to apply for a permanent residence document before you apply for British citizenship.
Applying for British citizenship through marriage?
If you marry a British national, you will not automatically attain British citizenship. You will need to make a naturalisation application.
As the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, provided you satisfy the general eligibility requirements, you can apply for British citizenship as soon as you are granted indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residence if you are an EEA national. This means you do not have to wait a further 12 months before becoming eligible to get British citizenship.
You will also have to have lived in the UK for a minimum of 3 years prior to making your application. During this qualifying period, you must not have been out of the country for more than 270 days, or 90 days in the 12 months prior to your application.
How long does it take to get British citizenship?
You may qualify for British citizenship having held for at least 12 months either indefinite leave to remain, permanent residence or EU settled status, following five years or more of residence in the UK, or with three years if married to a British citizen or in a Civil Partnership.
How long do British citizenship applications take to process?
Naturalisation applications can take up to 6 months in total to process. Processing will take longer if there are complications or errors with your application, making it even more important to ensure your initial application and supporting documents are comprehensive.
What is the cost of making a British citizenship application?
A British citizenship application costs £1330 for an adult. Home Office fees are subject to frequent change and you should check before sending in your application.
Also note, if you make a mistake and fail to submit a relevant document, your application will be automatically refused and you will lose the fees.
Can you hold dual citizenship with the UK?
Dual citizenship is permitted in the UK, meaning you will not, under British law, be required to relinquish your original nationality once you attain British citizenship.
However, you would need to check the position in your home country, as not all countries permit their citizens to hold dual nationality with the UK whereas others may require nationals to notify of their acquired citizenship.
What happens at the citizenship ceremony?
If your application for British citizenship is successful, you will need to attend a citizenship ceremony. It costs £80 to attend a group ceremony.
At the ceremony you will be asked to affirm or swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to pledge your loyalty to the UK.
Following the ceremony you will be presented with your certificate of naturalisation under British citizenship.
Legal advice when applying for British citizenship
Whilst being a British citizen has significant advantages – not least it will allow you to apply for a British passport and participate more fully in your local community – under the nationality laws of some countries you may automatically lose your nationality if you become a British citizen.
Further, if you obtain British citizenship on the basis of incorrect or fraudulent information you will be liable to prosecution. It is a criminal offence to make a false declaration to the Home Office knowing it is untrue.
It is therefore important to seek expert legal advice from an immigration specialist. Your legal adviser can also provide guidance as to the best way to obtain British citizenship, eg, through naturalisation or via an alternative route such as registration.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.