British Citizenship By Descent

We often get asked how a person might ‘inherit’ British Nationality. This is most often a question that arises for children born outside the UK to one or more parents who are British nationals.

In summary every British citizen is either a British citizen otherwise than by descent or a British citizen by descent.

This difference is important because the type of citizenship people have decides the way in which they can pass British citizenship on to their own children who were born outside the United Kingdom.

A British citizen otherwise than by descent, can automatically pass on British citizenship to a child born outside the UK. You can be a British Citizen otherwise than by descent by:

  • Birth; 
  • Registration; 
  • Naturalisation; 
  • Adoption.

A British citizen by descent is a person born outside the UK and is acquired if one or both their parents were British citizens at that time. This means that you cannot automatically pass on British citizenship to any child who is born abroad. You should also bear in mind that the parent from whom you want to ‘inherit’ your British Citizenship is named on your birth certificate.

You are a British citizen by descent if:

  • You are born outside the UK to a parent who was a British citizen at the time of your birth; 
  • It does not matter whether the birth took place before or after 1 January 1983 as long as a child who was born before that date became a British citizen on that date; 
  • On 31 December 1982, he or she was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies through:
    • his or her own birth, or 
    • a parent’s or a grandparent’s birth, 
    • legal adoption 
    • naturalisation 
    • registration
  • You lived in the UK while a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies for five years at any time before 1 January 1983, and was not subject to restrictions under the immigration laws at the end of that five year period. 
  • You are a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by connection with the Falkland Islands and Dependencies (i.e. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands).

Under the current Immigration Rules a child born inside the UK to parents who are neither British nationals nor holders of Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK at the time of the birth, will not automatically ‘inherit’ British nationality.

There is however a possibility to apply for British Nationality for such a child if, one or both their parents were granted Indefinite Leave to Remain ‘shortly’ after the birth. This is a new provision and if you think it applies to you, you need to contact us to discuss your situation carefully.