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Guide to British Citizenship for Children.


Child born in the UK.


A child born in the UK to a parent who is either a British citizen or a foreign national who has permanent residence/indefinite leave to remain (i.e. ‘settled’) will generally automatically acquire British citizenship at birth.

Since 1 July 2006, the parents do not need to be married for a father to be able to transmit British citizenship, but he should be named on the birth certificate. If unmarried, and the father is not so named, it may be necessary for him to undergo a DNA test to determine paternity. Additionally, if the parents are unmarried and the mother is still married to another man, it is the mother’s husband who will be considered to be the father for the purposes of determining the child’s qualification for British nationality, unless of course, the mother can transmit it in her own right.

For a child born before 1 July 2006 to unmarried parents, and where reliance is upon the father to transmit British citizenship, an application for the child’s registration as a British citizen can be made to the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Again, if the mother can transmit in her own right, then an application for registration need not be made.

If neither parent is either British or ‘settled’, the child will be of the parents’ nationaliy(ies), but can apply to register as a British citizen as soon as at least one parent obtains ‘settled’ status.



Child born abroad.


There are two ‘types’ of British citizen: ‘otherwise than by descent’ and ‘by descent’. In general terms, someone born in the UK will be a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ and someone born abroad who qualifies for British citizenship will obtain it on the basis of ‘descent’.

Before 1 January 1983, a person born in the UK will in most cases automatically be British ‘otherwise than by descent’, and a person born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 will be British ‘otherwise than by descent’ if they were born to either a British parent or a parent with ‘settled’ status. Whether someone is British ‘otherwise than by descent’ or ‘by descent’ does not detract from their own ‘Britishness’, and is only relevant in relation to the transmission of British citizenship.

For a child born abroad to automatically acquire British citizenship, the British parent must be a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’. This would confer upon the child the status of British citizen ‘by descent’, and the child could not automatically transmit British citizenship to their own children who might be born abroad in the future. A child born abroad to a parent who is British ‘by descent’ can, in certain circumstances, apply to the UKBA for registration as a British citizen.

As with a child born in the UK, since 1 July 2006, the parents of a child born abroad do not need to be married for a father to be able to transmit British citizenship, but he should be named on the birth certificate. If he is not so named, it may be necessary for him to undergo a DNA test to determine paternity. Additionally, if the parents are unmarried and the mother is still married to another man, it is the mother’s husband who will be considered to be the father for the purposes of determining the child’s qualification for British nationality, unless of course, the mother can transmit it in her own right. To give an example, a child born to an unmarried British father and Thai mother, where the mother is still married to a Thai, would not automatically acquire British citizenship.

Likewise, for children born abroad before 1 July 2006 to unmarried parents, and who rely upon the father to transmit British citizenship, an application for the child’s registration as a British citizen can be made to the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Again, if the mother can transmit in her own right, then an application for registration need not be made.



Procedure.


A child, whether born within or outside the UK, and who automatically acquires British citizenship at birth, can simply apply for a British passport in the usual fashion; either to the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) or to the British consulate in the country of residence, as appropriate. The documents that establish automatic acquisition of British citizenship should be submitted with the application, complete with translations of any that are in a language other than English. In general terms, these documents should consist of:-


  1. The child’s birth certificate;
  2. The parents’ marriage certificate (if married); and
  3. The full, original UK birth certificate of the parent transmitting British citizenship.


A parent who wishes to transmit British citizenship but who no longer has his/her original, full birth certificate can obtain a replacement from:-

The General Register Office
– for births in England and Wales
The General Register Office for Scotland
– for births in Scotland
The General Register Office (Northern Ireland)
– for births in Northern Ireland.




Authored by Davies Khan Immigration Associates. This guidance is intended as a general overview of British nationality law in effect on 19 May 2011, and it should be considered that individual circumstances might differ.