Home Sweet Home – How To Become A British Citizen
Packing up your belongings and moving to another country requires a great deal of courage and fortitude. Once you have settled into your new life, adjusted to the culture, established yourself professionally and found a place to call home, it is only natural that you would want to become a naturalised citizen of your adopted country.
But what does it take to become British? Is it enough to develop a love of tea, digestive biscuits and the Queen, use words like ramble and pop in everyday speech, and hone the fine art of discussing the pros and cons of the day’s weather at great length?
In truth, the road towards naturalisation can be laden with unexpected potholes which can slow down or even derail your journey. Despite this, statistics show that since the year 2000 the amount of people granted naturalisation in the United Kingdom has doubled.
This blog is intended to guide you through the ins and outs of applying for British nationality as well as warn you of any unexpected hurdles that you may come across while you are going through the application process.
What you Need to Prove in Order to Begin an Application for British Citizenship
The process for obtaining British Citizenship through naturalisation is governed by the British Nationality Act 1981.
Pothole #1: The granting of naturalisation is not an entitlement; the Secretary of State for the Home Department (or their representative) has full discretion to refuse to grant naturalisation, even if all the criteria are met.
The British Nationality Act 1981 sets out two routes to becoming eligible to apply for British citizenship, a three year route if the applicant is the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen and a five year route if the applicant is not a spouse or civil partner of a British Citizen.
Spouse or Civil Partner of a British Citizen (British Nationality Act 1981, s6(2))
To apply successfully via this route the following requirements must be met at the time of application. The applicant must be:
• over 18 years
• of sound mind
• married to or in a registered civil partnership with a British citizen
• of good character, and
• meet the Knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic Language and Life in the UK requirements (see below)
• have spent no more than 270 days outside of the United Kingdom over the preceding three year period
• during the 12 months prior to submitting the application have spent no longer than 90 days outside the United Kingdom
• free of any immigration time restrictions; and
• abiding by any immigration laws
Non-Spouse or Civil Partner of a British Citizen (British Nationality Act 1981, s6(1))
In 2013, 53% of naturalisations were granted to people who fell into this category. All of the above criteria apply if an individual is applying under the non-spouse, five year route, except for the requirement to be married or in a registered civil partnership with a British citizen. Additional requirements include:
• the applicant must intend to have their home or principle home in the United Kingdom
• during the five years before applying the applicant must have spent no more than 450 days outside the United Kingdom
Pothole#2 : Many successful business people find themselves denied naturalisation due to the fact their jobs require extensive travel and they are often out of the country for more than the 270 or 450 days over the three or five year residency period required. 32% of refused naturalisation applications in 2012 were denied on this ground.
To avoid this situation it is important to decide early on whether British citizenship is something you wish to gain so you can plan your business and personal travel to accommodate the residency requirements. Some leniency may be exercised by the Secretary of State for the Home Department or their representative; however, this is entirely at their discretion.
The English Language and Knowledge of Life in the UK Requirement
Individuals who apply for naturalisation under s 6(1) or s 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 are required to have both sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language and sufficient knowledge of life in the UK.
The language requirement was amended extensively, effective from the 28th of October 2013. Applications for naturalisation made on or after that date require a good knowledge of English only. The applicant will be required to demonstrate:
1. they have obtained a speaking and listening qualification in English at Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or higher, or an equivalent level qualification
2. they have obtained an academic qualification deemed by the United Kingdom National Academic Recognition Information Centre to meet the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or PhD in the United Kingdom and:
a. The United Kingdom National Academic Recognition Information Centre has confirmed that the qualification was taught or researched in English, or
b. the qualification was taught or researched in the United Kingdom or a majority English speaking country other than Canada, or
3. they are a national of a majority English speaking country
There are certain exemptions to the language requirement, for example, it may not be required if the applicant is 65 years or over or is suffering from an illness or disability which prevents them from studying the English language.
With limited exemptions, all applicants must pass the Life in the UK test in order to be eligible for naturalisation. An official handbook is available to study in preparation for the test and you can retake the test as many times as you need to in order to gain a pass.
The Good Character Requirement
The standard applied for assessing ‘good character’ is a high one. The applicant must show the Secretary of State for the Home Department that not only have they led a law-abiding life, but that they respect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by those residing in the United Kingdom, and will be a good citizen if granted naturalisation.
If you are applying for naturalisation you must disclose any criminal convictions obtained both within the United Kingdom and in any foreign jurisdictions.
Pothole #3 – Traffic offences (even minor ones) are included if you have pleaded guilty by post or been found guilty in a Court. However, if you have received a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) this is not regarded as a criminal conviction unless you have clocked up numerous FPNs over the twelve month period before making the application.
If you have committed a criminal offence in a foreign country and have been incarcerated for that offence, your application will not be automatically refused. However, if you received a sentence of four years or more it is highly likely that your application will be denied, regardless of the time that has elapsed since the offence was committed. A custodial sentence of up to 12 months will usually require the applicant to have had a clean record for up to seven years from the time the sentence was imposed.
Other situations which must be disclosed and will be taken into account by the Secretary of State for the Home Department when considering good character include:
• any involvement in war crimes, genocide or terrorist activities
• any financial matters such as bankruptcy, tax avoidance or debt
• notoriety in the local or wider community
The Application Procedure
To apply for British citizenship you must complete and provide the following:
• An AN form, complete with a recent passport photo and endorsed by two referees
• The supporting documents outlined in the AN form which include evidence of identity, evidence of knowledge of the English language and life in the UK and evidence of marriage or civil partnership (if applying under the British Nationality Act 1981, s6(2)).
You can make the application yourself or through your solicitor. The decision regarding whether your application is successful or not will normally take around six months.
What if My Application for British Citizenship is Refused?
There is no statutory right of appeal if your application has been refused; however, you may apply for it to be reconsidered by submitting an NR form if you feel the decision to decline your application was incorrect.
If you feel your application was refused on grounds that are illegal, unreasonable or as a result of procedural errors, you may apply to the courts for a judicial review. If a judicial review is successful, the court may quash the refusal and order the Secretary of State for the Home Department to reconsider the application.
Becoming a British citizen is a time-consuming, detailed process, however, for many individuals, obtaining citizenship of their adopted country is the final step in feeling completely settled and ‘at home’ and for this reason it is worth climbing out of any potholes that may lie in the way of achieving that end goal.
To find out more about applying for British citizenship please click here.
Can you point out any further potholes in the road to naturalisation? If so, feel free to note them in the comments section below for the benefit of other readers.