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Registering a Child as a UK Citizen or National

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 5 Sep 2019 | comments*Discuss
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Under British nationality law a child born to British parents outside of the UK does not automatically become a British citizen. However, depending on the type of citizenship or nationality held by the parents, it may be possible to register the child as a British citizen or as another type of British national. British citizens or nationals who adopt children from abroad may also use the procedure described below to register their adopted children as British citizens or nationals.

British nationality rules changed on 1 January 1983 when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force – prior to that date British women were not able to pass their nationality on to their children. Some of the rules and definitions changed again on 21 May 2002 - the procedure described below applies to children born after that date. The rules on registration also differ for children born before 1st July 2006 as, prior to that date, fathers could generally only pass on their nationality if they were married to the child’s mother.

Citizenship by Descent and Citizenship Otherwise Than by Descent

Whether or not British citizens can pass on citizenship to their children depends, in part, on whether they are citizens by descent or “otherwise than by descent”. British citizens by descent inherited their citizenship from a relative. Examples of citizens “otherwise than by descent” are those who were born in the UK, or in a qualifying UK territory, or who have become naturalised British citizens. However, it is also possible to become a British citizen “otherwise than by descent” through registration.

British citizens otherwise than by descent have a much greater ability to pass citizenship on to their own children than British citizens by descent.

Children Born Outside the UK

Children born outside the UK to parents who are British citizens otherwise than by descent will usually be British citizens by descent. For children born before, 1st July 2006 this would generally only be the case if either the mother was a British citizen and / or the child’s British father was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth. (However, exceptions may apply – for example if one of the child’s parents is employed by the British armed forces.)

Children born outside the UK to parents who are British citizens by descent will not automatically be British citizens but may be eligible to be registered as British citizens. A child born abroad who is adopted by a British citizen, in a recognised adoption procedure, will automatically be entitled to become a British citizen.

Registering a Child as a British Citizen

It may be possible to register a child born outside the UK to a British citizen by descent as a British citizen if:
  • The parent was born to a British citizen otherwise than by descent and satisfied a minimum qualifying residence period in the UK of 3 years prior to the child’s birth. An application to register a child on this basis must be made before the child is one-year-old. The child would become a citizen by descent and therefore would generally not be able to pass on British citizenship to his or her own children. OR,
  • The child and both of its parents have lived in the UK for a minimum qualifying period of three years. If both parents agree to the child being registered as a citizen, applications may be made on this ground up to the child’s 18th birthday. A child registered as a citizen on this basis will become a citizen otherwise than by descent and will be able to pass citizenship on to his or her own children. Children over 10 must be “of good character” to qualify for registration which means that they must have respected the laws, rights and freedoms of the UK.
Children who would otherwise be stateless may also be entitled to be registered as British citizens.

For children who do not satisfy all the requirements for registration, but in respect of whom there may be some good reason why they should be registered as British citizens, it is possible that the Home Secretary could exercise his discretion to agree that they should be registered as British citizens.

Registering a Child Born Outside the UK for Another Type of Nationality

Even if a child does not satisfy the requirements to be registered as a British citizen, it may qualify for another form of British nationality. Depending on the type of nationality being applied for the application may be entirely discretionary or there may be specific requirements which must be met.

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Hi, I gained my British citizen by decent, i want to bring my husband and sons (aged 13 and 11) indonesia citizens to come to the UK permanently. can we use a tourist visa first then apply for a family visa when they are in UK?
Angel - 5-Sep-19 @ 4:35 PM
Hi, we are on ILR and the one year period will end march 2020. My wife and I will apply for British citizenship. However, how about for my 14 year old child which is born outside the UK but been with us in the UK for 11 years now and also an ILR holder. Please advise. Thanks.
Bob - 25-Aug-19 @ 11:25 AM
My child born uk when 13 he start to study usa and go overstay now he 19 and want to come back to uk and startstudy uk what I need to do
Kelly - 24-Aug-19 @ 5:11 AM
@Tourey, how old is your child in Africa?
NikNak - 6-Aug-19 @ 9:51 AM
I live in England 15 years now and I have British citizenship and British passport,I have fours boys 3 of which are born in England but one born in Africa,I was married to my son mother wife but mother die my mother looking after my son.last year I lost my mother as well and now me and new wife lives in England now,what do i do to bring my son to England?can I apply British citizenship for my son?what do I do please? Kind regards saikou Touray
Saikou Touray - 5-Aug-19 @ 11:36 PM
I was a Singapore Citizen by birth and so was my daughter(born in 1982). In 1984 I claimed British citizenship by descent (successfully) from my British born father which I understand cannot be passed on to my daughter (only one generation). In 1984 we decided to move to the UK and my husband and daughter had ILR. Therefore I was not a BR citizen at the time of my daughter’s birth but became one two years after her birth. In 1990 having met the residency and other statutory requirements ,my husband applied for naturalisation (successfully) and my daughter was registered under 3.1. However, there was no accompanying letter to explain her citizenship status whether it is by descent or otherwise by descent. Having read the guidance for 3.1, I suspect that she is otherwise by descent because A. I was not a citizen at the time of her birth and B. Citizenship by descent cannot be passed down two generations and C. She applied for registration in her own right at the same time when my husband applied to be naturalised.Both received their respective citizenship status on the same date in 1990. I believe that my daughter can pass her citizenship to my granddaughter and register her as a Br Citizen .Am I correct in my understanding of the BNA?
JR - 24-Jul-19 @ 5:44 PM
ALF - 17-Jul-19 @ 12:40 PM
I gained my British citizenship through decent. (lived in South Africa all life) On 23/4/2019 I moved to UK to take up permanent employment. Now I need to bring my family across. Husband will do family visa. Children, both South African citizens, we wanted to apply using Mn1. Daughter is 3,son is 17 What do I state to ensure application successful?
Candice - 11-Jun-19 @ 9:07 PM
My son who is 15 years old would like to take British nationality lives uk for last 8 years. currently he holds Portuguese national. What's the procedure.
Priya - 21-May-19 @ 7:52 PM
@Mila - If you friend gets sole parental responsibility, she can apply for ILR for her child.
TJ. - 15-May-19 @ 11:48 AM
@NH - Your son born in India is not entitled to British Nationality unless his mother lived in the UK for at least continuous years before he was born. Your other son born in the UK will be a British citizen otherwise than by descent.
TJ. - 15-May-19 @ 10:53 AM
I have one friend who have permanent indefinitely remained and she want to bring her daughter who is 11 years old to be reunited a live in UK,her daughter is from Colombian, what she need to do to bring her daughter? Her father of the child who live in Colombian with her daughter is agree to sign any documents to be a reunited with the mother.
Mila - 14-May-19 @ 3:56 PM
One of my son was born in India in 2018 while my other is expected to born in UK(since my wife is expecting). I am indian national and my wife is british by descent (since her mother was british). Will my both sons able to get there british nationality or not. My wife and me both settled in india..
NH - 14-May-19 @ 11:34 AM
@Tiana - With your consent your brother can adopt your son
TJ. - 10-May-19 @ 2:48 PM
@Ana - You will not be able to register your son as a British citizen unless you have sole parental responsibility. Otherwise your son is free to come to the UK as a Romanian citizen and live and study without any restriction.
TJ. - 10-May-19 @ 2:47 PM
@Mr M - If you were never married to her mother then your daughter is not a British citizen. She can apply to register as a British citizen using the UKF form.
TJ. - 10-May-19 @ 2:45 PM
I claimed asylum and still fighting my case,can my brother who has a 2 and half stay in the uk and has got two kids and has a British citizenship girlfriend,can my brother adopt my son ?????
Tiana - 9-May-19 @ 8:20 AM
Hi I am a mother who became British by naturalisation and also I have British passport. My son is in Romania now. Can I apply for him to be British citizen? He is now 13 year old and I want to bring him in 1 Year time in UK. Your advice will be much appreciate. Thank you Ana
Ana - 8-May-19 @ 7:33 PM
My daughter was born in uk 1994 . Has lived here ever since . Has court papers saying she is to reside with me until 18 in uk .All so has RESIDENCE order for uk . All my family are British as I am . Her mother is DUTCH . Is my daughter British ?
Mr M - 8-May-19 @ 6:47 PM
@Pola - If you are applying using the MN1 form under section 3(1) then your son does not require any proof of permanent residence. Your son has lived over half of his life in the UK and on that basis he can apply for EU settled status which is free of charge. Given that his application will be at the Home Secretary's discretion having settled status might help
TJ. - 7-May-19 @ 11:06 PM
Thank you very much for advice. Could you also tell me please if I have to apply for permanent resident card for my son before I register him as a British Citizen or he doesn't need that card to be registered as British Citizenship? Thank you.
Pola - 6-May-19 @ 5:47 PM
@ditiro - Your daughter can only apply to register as a British citizen if her mother has Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or is a British citizen assuming parental responsibility is shared.
TJ. - 3-May-19 @ 1:57 PM
@Pola - If you have sole parental responsibility for your son then you can apply to register him as a British citizen. You must however do this before he turns 18.
TJ. - 3-May-19 @ 1:55 PM
@AL - It is not possible for you son to change his citizenship to otherwise than by descent. Being British by descent is not any different from otherwise than by doesn't regarding having a child outside the UK. This shouldn't be a problem as you mentioned you have no plans of leaving the UK
TJ. - 3-May-19 @ 1:52 PM
@Roz - your child is a British citizen by descent if you were registered as a British citizen otherwise than by descent.
TJ. - 3-May-19 @ 1:49 PM
Hello,my daughter was born in canada in 2004 and i bacame a british citizen by naturalisation in 2015.Her mum is not british.can she also get british citizenship now? ditiro
ditiro84 - 2-May-19 @ 12:09 PM
Hello, I would like to register my son as British Citizen. My son was born in Poland and he came to England when he was 4 years old. I am single mother. I am divorced in 2005. I have a parental responsibility order. My ex husband is deprived of the parental responsibilty. My son is 16 y old. Nearly 17 years old. I have a British Nationality by neutralisation from 2 years. I understand to register my son as British Citizen his parents need to be both British or one has to be British and second parent must be settled in Uk. His father lives in other country. He is not British and never been in Uk. My question is whether in my situation when I am single mother with parental responsibilty for my son and I have a British Passport can I register my son as British Citizen please? Do I have to apply for permanent resident card first for him? In the guide mn1 I can not see any information about it.Unless I am wrong. Thank you for advice.
Pola - 29-Apr-19 @ 1:51 PM
Hi, is it possible to convert my son's 'citizenship by descent' to 'citizenship otherwise than by descent'? He was born outside the UK but has lived here for the last 4 years (he is 7 yrs old), and we plan to continue living in the UK. I am his birth mother and fully British - citizenship 'otherwise than by descent'. At the time of his birth I did not realise the different types of citizenship - had I known I would have done things differently. Thanks. AL
AL - 29-Apr-19 @ 12:03 PM
I am a registered as a British Citizen under section 4 (2)I lived in UK for over 35 years but my birth was in Kenya..My parents and grandparents are British Citizens as they lived in Kenya/East Africa when it was a British Colony. My daughter was born in Hong Kong. I would like to obtain British Citizenship for her. Is she eligible.
Roz - 15-Apr-19 @ 11:35 AM
@Christie - Your son will have to apply for British citizenship first using the UKF form before he can apply for a British passport.
TJ. - 12-Apr-19 @ 12:05 PM
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