Because of the UK’s complex international history there are several different forms of UK nationality. An individual’s nationality will generally be determined by the country in which they were born, the nationality of their parents or ancestors and their date of birth.
Many of the rules determining UK nationality changed in 1983 when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force.
Prior to 1983 almost anyone born in the UK acquired British citizenship. People born in the UK after 1 January 1983 are still likely to be British citizens if one of their parents was a British citizen or was legally settled in the UK at the time of the birth.
The children of European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss nationals may also acquire British citizenship if born in the UK. However, whether they are British citizens will depend on when they were born. Those born in the UK to EEA nationals:
- Between 1st January 1983 and 1st October 2000 are likely to be British citizens.
- From 2nd October 2000 to 29 April 2006 are likely to be British citizens if one of their parents had indefinite leave to remain in the UK at the time of the birth.
- From 30 April 2006 are likely to be British citizens if one of their parents had acquired permanent resident status.
Similar rules apply to the children of Swiss nationals born in the UK since 1 June 2002.
Whether children born abroad to British citizens will themselves acquire UK citizenship will depend on when they were born and the type of British citizenship held by their parent or parents.
Individuals holding the forms of nationality listed below may need a visa before coming to live or work in the UK. Some British nationals may, however, be entitled to register as a British citizen.
British Overseas Citizenship
This form of nationality was introduced when the British Nationality Act came into force in 1983. Under the terms of that Act, individuals who had been a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies before 1 January 1983 – but who did not automatically become British Citizens or British Overseas Territories Citizens on that date – became British Overseas Citizens. Those who became British Overseas Citizens on that date, rather than British Citizens, may have done so because they did not satisfy a minimum qualifying period.
British Overseas Citizens may be able to register as British citizens if they satisfy the residence requirements or if they hold no other nationality.
British Overseas Territories Citizenship
This form of citizenship is acquired by individuals who have some connection with British Overseas Territories – previously known as British Dependent Territories. It generally applies to individuals who were United Kingdom and Colonies citizens before 1st January 1983 and who did not automatically become British Citizens on that date but who had some connection with a British overseas territory either personally or through an ancestor.
On 21 May 2002 many British Overseas Territories Citizens automatically acquired full British citizenship.
British National (Overseas)
Individuals who held British Overseas Territories Citizenship by connection with Hong Kong were entitled to register as British Nationals (Overseas) up to 1 July 1997. When Hong Kong passed back to China individuals whose only entitlement to British nationality was through their connection with Hong Kong – and who had not registered as British Nationals (Overseas) – lost their entitlement to British citizenship. However, individuals with no other nationality as of 30th June 1997 automatically became British Overseas Citizens on 1 July 1997.
Few individuals have qualified as British Subjects since the British Nationality Act came into force on 1st January 1983. The following categories of people became British Subjects on that date:
- Individuals who were British subjects prior to 1949 and who did not subsequently acquire another form of citizenship;
- Individuals who were British subjects and citizens of Eire prior to 1949 and who applied to remain as British subjects;
- Women who had registered as British subjects through their marriage to a man who fell into one of the two preceding categories.
British Protected Persons
This form of nationality applied to the nationals of countries, which did not form part of the British Empire, but which were offered protection by Britain. Most British Protected Persons lost that status either through acquiring the citizenship of another country or a different form of UK nationality.
Only individuals who were British Protected Persons as of 1 January 1983 and / or who were born to a British Protected Person after that date are likely to qualify under this category of British nationality. British Protected Persons may qualify to register as British citizens by satisfying the residence requirements or through marriage to a British citizen.